Final thoughts on CommunicAsia 2016

13 Jun 2016

With the biggest party of the year come and gone, looking back, what was it that impressed me most with this year’s CommunicAsia? Apart from the jetpacks and flying cargo blimps which were not quite to do with telecommunications, I think year is finally the year where the compute-communications convergence is becoming commercial reality.

There were a number of vendors promoting ONOS,The Open Network Operating System. Which, to quote its own website, “is a software defined networking (SDN) OS for service providers that has scalability, high availability, high performance and abstractions to make it easy to create apps and services.”

On the other end of the Open Source - Proprietary spectrum we had Dell taking a two pronged approach. On the one had the IT giant had brought along its partner Saguna networks to provide what it called micro-edge data centers with one serving as few as 50 eNodeB’s. On the other end, Dell used CommunicAsia to launch its ruggedized, fanless industrial PCs with a mind to be installed right at the cell site.

The use case for both the open and closed solutions were in fact quite simple. The vendors spoke of intelligent networks bringing down latency and with the intelligence opening up more opportunities. Opportunities such as CDN or OTT video networks with data stored closer to the edge.

Noviflow was one of the open source ONOS vendors who added the possibility of scaling capacity and enhanced security to the intelligent network the idea being that DDOS attacks once identified could be dropped right at the edge of the network through an intelligent firewall that existed somewhere in the ONOS fabric.

Of course, the concept of SDN and the intelligent network is nothing new. Indeed, it has been floated around since the days of 3G and the move to all-IP networks. What feels different this time around is that everyone has acknowledged that the first wave failed because of a lack of open standards and now they realize that nobody can have a walled garden controlling everything. This time, open standards take center stage as is the concept of partnering and offering the infrastructure as service to partners.

Will it happen? That is anyone’s guess. But at least this year they are starting with the idea of working together through open standards, rather than starting at the capabilities of the boxes they are selling, and that is progress.

As usual, the Canadian and Australian pavilions impressed. These two countries always punch way above their weight when it comes to real innovation. Unlike some countries (in plural) which shall not be named that bring along a zillion vendors selling identical looking fiber-optic splicing equipment or others (also in plural) with nice fancy booths but cannot talk to media without a prior appointment or others still with their big, bad electrical stuff and their big, macho satellite dishes, these two are the only two which seem to bring along innovation that is actually fun to learn about.

But what really impressed me this year about Australia was the visit to the pavilion by Philip Dalidakis, Minister for Small Business, Innovation and Trade for the state of Victoria. Granted he was the first Australian politician I have come across in person, but most of the time, politicians’ booth visits are just a fleeting photo-op.

Dalidakis however, spent almost two hours at the pavilion talking to every single exhibitor. What impressed me all the more was how he kept telling his staff to make introductions when a vendor’s solution such as saving paper or saving government IT projects could help government or could be helped by government.

Of course, being a politician, Dalidakis also named every person’s constituent MP and urged them to meet and talk to them.

But if I had to name my favourite for 2016, it must be Kuang-Chi science from China. The company had brought along a model of its blimp, or tethered aerostat, to provide satellite grade services at less than 1% of the cost. It also had flat meta-material satellite dishes and mobile solutions that looked tiny and so modern compared to the curved metal that everyone else in the exhibition hall was still showing.

Kuang-Chi also builds personal jetpacks, cargo blimps and has pages of its prospectus devoted to the oncoming AI singularity. I must admit to having self-censored out the bit about our AI robotic overlords in my reporting - again, like the jetpack not quite for CommunicAsia.

Before CommunicAsia, Kuang-Chi had only sold four of its blimps to government agencies in mainland China. On the last day, I walked by to be greeted warmly by the chap I had interviewed earlier who told me that he just might have got his first contract outside of China right there for a small country wanting the blimps for environmental monitoring.

It certainly gave me a warm fuzzy feeling to be part of history in the making for this promising Chinese startup. Now, if only they can bring their jetpacks to CommunicAsia 2017 to allow some of us to fly around Marina Bay, that would be great.

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