Aust NBN huge opportunity for Asean players

ICT firms in Southeast Asia can partner local companies to tap country's planned US$36.7 billion National Broadband Network and ride on infrastructure for new apps, says trade body.

COMMUNICASIA, SINGAPORE--The Australian National Broadband Network (NBN) will provide tremendous opportunities for ICT companies in Southeast Asia, according to representatives from the Australian Trade Commission (Austrade).

Announced last year, the NBN project is said to cost A$43 billion (US$36.7 billion) and be carried out over eight years.

Janelle Casey, Austrade's global leader for ICT, health and biotech, told ZDNet Asia in an interview Wednesday at the CommunicAsia trade show that other than the establishment of the NBN Co to build and operate the national network, testbeds have also been created in, for example, Tasmania. The government has to date invested about A$500 million (US$426.9 million) to test technology infrastructure, she said.

With planned broadband speeds that reach 100 megabit per second (Mbps), "Asean and Australian companies can use that infrastructure to develop new applications and...take those new applications and services globally", she noted.

The Australian government, she added, is likely to evaluate in the coming weeks 83 recommendations from a recently-concluded implementation study. "Once the recommendations are accepted or modified, the NBN Co...will start rolling out the project--getting tenders and calling for capability submissions.

"Again, that's where Asean companies, if they're working with an Australian partner, they can submit joint-capability expressions of interest," said Casey.

Australian's A$120 billion (US$102.4 billion) domestic ICT market, ranked No. 5 in the Asia-Pacific region and No. 12 globally, is also a sizable one, she noted. In particular, there is a "good opportunity" for Asean businesses to sell products or services, or partner with Australia companies, in the areas of telecoms, e-health, green IT and financial services technology.

In addition, there is a "strong R&D (research and development) infrastructure" Down Under, with over 80 research institutes, said Casey. Asean companies that are looking to develop new technologies and applications can collaborate with these organizations and testbed their concepts in Australia.

Free trade pact to open doors
The continent is also aiming to build stronger trade ties, especially in ICT and sustainable infrastructure, with Southeast Asia, under a new free trade pact between the two territories and New Zealand.

The Asean-Australia-New Zealand Free Trade Agreement (AANZFTA), which went into effect on Jan. 1, 2010, covers a combined market of 600 million people with a GDP (gross domestic product) of A$3 trillion (US$2.6 trillion).

Nine of the 12 countries--Brunei, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam--have to date completed the paperwork for AANZFTA, while Cambodia, Indonesia and Laos are expected to formally be a part of the agreement by year-end, according to the Web site of the Australian government's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

Elodie Journet, Australia's Trade Commissioner to Singapore and Asean ICT team leader, said Austrade hopes to tap on Singapore as a hub to Southeast Asia, helping Australian firms to partner Singapore businesses to expand into the region.

The official noted that there has been ongoing collaboration between the two markets which would benefit from the activation of the AANZFTA. "Also, by 2015, the Asean Economic Community, a similar format to what the EU has--a single trade market--that gives extensive opportunities to reach beyond Singapore and to extend those existing partnerships to the rest of the region," she pointed out.

Asean is currently Australia's second-largest two-way trading partner, after Europe. The region could become No. 1, said Journet, but she did not specify a timeframe.

According to Journet, Australia has specific technologies relating to smart grids, cloud computing and energy management, that it can transfer to Southeast Asian markets as they make their foray in these areas. Australia also sees opportunities tied to the rollout of high-speed broadband across the region, apart from countries such as Singapore and Malaysia which already have implemented such plans.

As part of its greater engagement in the region, Austrade will be organizing a tour to Singapore in October to learn from Singapore's Next-Generation National Broadband Network and share best practices. It will also facilitate various delegations to Southeast Asia and also Australia.