Internet imperative meets challenges and opportunity
Thi Anh Thu, director of Saigon Institute of Information
Anh Tuan, the slim, Khaki-clad, blue-shirted entrepreneurial 38 year-old
father of Vietnam’s Internet service, Vietnam Data Communications (VDC),
logs on daily to communicate with his strategic and unlikely partner,
4Real Software in Houston, Texas.
Internet is at the center of Tuan’s daily life on tamarind tree-lined
Ba Trieu street in Hanoi. Here in his spartan and modern office with its
highly polished wood floors, the technopreneur spends several hours each
day on his laptop, a new Sony Vaio, communicating on-line to his
international partner and others in the West.
Tuan, the Internet is an enabling technology breaking down both physical
and political barriers between former enemies. The Internet is playing a
significant role in Vietnam’s economic development and is propelling
the national economy down the road into the global economy.
expanding government controlled business unit, Value Added Service
Center, has licensed their proprietary software, designed for the Palm
Pilot, to the Houston-based software company, 4Real Software, which held
an export contract valued at $1.5 million. 4Real Software and Tuan’s
enterprising state-controlled division are well into the second year of
a strategic relationship to develop the software and IT export industry
Yes, Vietnam is now connected to the world and I see an opportunity to
do something significant for the country. We have bright, talented young
people and they are ready to participate in the globally competitive
software industry,” remarked Tuan looking up momentarily from his
computer. Among their achieved successes is a joint effort with
Microsoft to train hundreds of software developers in Vietnam.
doubt, for some early foreign investors the promised economic reforms
were stalled, but there’s no disputing Vietnam’s large numbers of
information technology-literate young entrepreneurs pushing the
government for greater access to the Internet.
new impetus for those entrepreneurs still pursuing domestic market
opportunities,Vietnam’s Directorate General of Posts and
Telecommunications (DGPT) trumpeted its pre-Tet plans to license one or
two more firms to open Internet gateways later this year.
will license one or two more Internet access providers,” Mai Liem Truc,
the head of market regulator DGPT, announced just a few weeks ago in
country presently has just two Internet gateways, both run by the
state-run Vietnam Data Communications Co. (VDC), which provides access
for four Internet service providers (ISPs).
dramatic and surprising business venture between Vietnam’s leading
ISP, VDC, and an overseas Vietnamese, Kien Pham, promises to help
modernize Vietnam and signals a new beginning for a poor country still
slowly struggling to find a balance between control—as evidenced by
what many regard as the glacial pace of its economic reforms—and the
exigencies of a free marketplace. A government decree issued last year
makes clear that all Internet gateways will remain state-controlled.
own nascent dreams for a software industry are further buttressed with
the recent signing of the bilateral trade agreement with the United
States. In return for vastly improved access to the coveted US. market,
Hanoi has finally agreed to provide foreign investors with transparent
approvals processes, and an end to dual-pricing hurdles.
Vietnamese Silicon Valley trained software engineers are encouraged by
the state-controlled Post and Telecommunications. They are being brought
into the sensitive and highly politically charged government-controlled
see no issues here at all,” claims Tuan. “We have a partner who has
something to contribute to our success and to his own company. We do not
need to discuss politics or reconciliation. Our focus is business
development and making profits.”
year alone, in both Saigon and Hanoi, many programming courses have
sprung up, with numerous overseas tie-ups. In old Hanoi , not far from
Tuan’s modern three story government offices, there are over 75
Internet cafes, offering Internet access, while serving up coffee, bike
rentals and tour packages, a big jump since a year ago. In the South, on
the Dream Hondas choking the streets of Saigon, there are several
hundred Internet cafes: “Vietnam is making great strides forward in
connecting the country with the West and the latest technology
developments,” exclaimed the optimistic Tuan.
mindful of the benefits of the Internet, particularly to its aim of
establishing the country as a global player in information technology,
the ruling Communist party still considers free flow of information a
threat to its hold on power.
optimism belies information technology’s cloudy, if not challenging
future in Vietnam, caused by daily government censorship. For example,
VDC’s firewall intercepts every single request to access a site in
Vietnam and then passes it on only if it complies with the country’s
existing censorship regulations. The country’s Ministry of Public
Security and Ministry of Culture and Information established its
“firewall system” with the advent of Internet service access in
these security issues, the government has embarked on an ambitious IT
imperative by establishing a subsidized software park for start-up
companies at Quang Trung Software City, located about 30 minutes from
downtown Ho Chi Minh City. Their dedicated service lines, allows faster
access time and rates are reduced to better serve start-up companies.
Vietnam Post and Telecommunications, the government has targeted a
software turnover of at least $100 million by 2005. For the first time
since its development, VNPT’s deputy director, Hoang Thai Tho
indicated they earned more than $1 billion last year, installing 4.23
telephones per 100 people.
Tech, located in the same software park, in a joint degree agreement
with Houston Community College System (HCCS) offers an AAS and BS
programs in computer and information science technology.
students, now more than 180, are benefiting from the small classes and
excellent faculty, and all our courses are taught in English,” added
Nguyen Thi Anh Thu from Saigon Tech.
these initiatives provide some measure of hope to Vietnam’s younger
generation. Independent software developers in HCMC, like Phil Tran of
Glass Egg Digital Media recognize that Vietnam is poised for growth in
an industry that is momentarily in a state of contraction since last
year. Glass Egg has found its niche creating detailed animated
characters for some of the largest game publishers.
We are creating our own Silicon Alley work atmosphere here in Vietnam,
and our team of young bright people are ready for all new challenges,”
said Tran, a University of California at Berkeley graduate.
Cisco’s chief representative, Ha Huy Hao reveals that they are opening
a Cisco Networking Academy soon in Hanoi soon. “ Although the IT
developments here have not reached the international standards yet, the
Vietnamese are intelligent and eager to learn new technologies,” adds
With this boost from the
software developers and training centers, no wonder DGPT aims to boost
Internet usage to at least four or five percent of the population by
2005. Don’t blink, this may be a reality. Vietnam has witnessed over
the past 4 years, an annual 10 percent growth in telephone subscribers,
while internet subscribers grew at 80 percent rate per year.
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