Nera expects growth in Thailand’s fast growing ICT sector

For Nera, a medium-sized global supplier of fixed wireless and satellite communication equipment and systems, one of the most important business principles is “not trying to just sell the products, but working more as a technology partner.”
     “We give our customers consultancy on what technology is available, how it works, the pros and cons, etc. Orders will follow if the consultancy part is carried out well and satisfying to them,” says Major Choakdee Dhamasaroj, Vice President & General Manager of Nera (Thailand) Ltd.
     Nera Thailand is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Nera Telecommunications Ltd. (NeraTel), Singapore, which is a subsidiary of Nera ASA. The company designs, develops, manufactures and markets point-to-point and point-to-multipoint radio link equipment, satellite terminals and gateways for mobile and fixed satellite communications.
     “Thailand as well as the whole of Asia is now recovering from the 97’ economic crisis. Majority of the telecom products manufactured during the past 12 months were for Asian market,” says Major Choakdee.
     Nera Thailand divides its business activities into three units – Transmission, satellite and IT.
     “In Thailand, transmission is our fastest growing market, followed by IT and satellite businesses,” he continues. “Our IT unit however does not have much of Norwegian interests – they are mostly US and Japanese network solution software.”
     “Major customers of Nera’s transmission products – which use microwave technology – in Thailand include Telenor’s Thai partner Total Access Communication (DTAC) as well as Advance Info Services (AIS), the two largest mobile phone operators in the country.”
     The number of mobile phone subscribers in Thailand has for over a year surpassed that of the fixed lines, Major Choakdee points out.
     “Only subscribers of Advance Info Services (AIS) alone totals more than twelve million at present while all fixed lines in Thailand (operated and maintained by three organizations – Telephone Organization of Thailand, TelecomAsia Corporation and Thai Telephone & Telecommunications) totals some eight million,” he elaborates.
     Last year NeraTel received an order worth more than NOK 16.5 million to supply SDH microwave radio to a cellular operator in Thailand. Early this year Nera Thailand has been awarded another contract worth NOK 18 million by a Thai government agency to supply SDH transmission network equipment and engineering services to deploy a communication network in Thailand.
     Other clients of Nera’s microwave technology include the Telephone Organization of Thailand, Communication Authority of Thailand and also King Mongkut’s Institute of Technology for its education works.
     In satellite communication, Nera’s products are also used by both private and government agencies, the recently biggest project being Shin Satellite’s broadband Internet services via satellite throughout the Asia Pacific region – known as the iPSTAR system.
     iPSTAR technology is considered the world’s most efficient and cost effective – with low cost, high bandwidth user terminals, and many times bandwidth improvement over other current technologies.
     Nera has been working with Shin Satellite since the start of the first generation of the project in 2000. In a recent order valued at NOK 125 million, signed in December 2002, Nera would within this year complete provision of 18 additional gateways to Shin Satellite for the second generation of the iPSTAR system, which is expected to start its commercial operations in early 2004.
     Besides, Nera’s satellite technology also serves Thai fishing fleets, ocean vessels, luxury cruise ships as well as military works. The troop of Thai solders to East Timor uses Nera’s satellite products as supporting equipment in their peacekeeping mission in the newly-constituted country.
     According to Major Choakdee, baring unforeseen circumstances, Nera Thailand expects growth from the three business areas this year.
     The recent outbreak of SARS has a negative effect on many businesses, including Nera. But not all such bad news dampens Nera’s business.
     “Contrary to most of other businesses that have become lackluster during the height of the US-Iraqi tension early this year, we received numerous calls by media types who wants to cover the situation. Our calendar was filled with product presentation appointments since the situation began to heat up. The concerns over Y2K bug before the change of the millennium was another example of a negative situation that has boosted our business,” he recalls.
     Nera’s competitors include technology giants, the likes of Ericssons, Nokia, Siemens, Alcatel and NEC, who are better-known in the mass market because they have also branched to consumer gadgets such as mobile phones. The business of Nera and theirs are sometimes complementary though.
     Major Choakdee sees the relatively small size of Nera Thailand an advantage.
     “Like any other small organizations, we have to be able to do many tasks ourselves and consequently we are integrated in term of expertise in the field. And with the current global trend that sees IT and telecom industries merging, we believe we have an advantage because we are already expert in both.”
     A good example of the said trend is also beginning in Thailand as can be seen in the e-mail service offered by AIS’s GSM Advance, in which its subscribers can also use their mobile number as their e-mail address.
     “This single-identity trend has already occurred in the States and some other developed countries,” he adds.

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