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The Snowden effect at CommunicAsia

Edward Snowden may be somewhere in Russia, but he might as well have been in Singapore waltzing along the halls of CommunicAsia 2014. He was on everyone’s lips, the NSA spying revelations having shaken the industry to the core over the past year.

Nearly everyone I talked to had a strong opinion, but none of them cared to share them on the record.

Many saw the American spy apparatus as a joke. One software vendor had an augmented reality learning application. If it saw the letters DOG, it would show a video of a dog, for instance.

“So what happens if you show it the letters NSA?,” I asked. “It self destructs,” came the answer complete with a chuckle.

Others were more serious. The Australians in particular were fingered in the Snowden files as spying on Indonesia and many were suffering as a result. One chap from down under pointed out that the Indonesian network that was compromised was mainly from an American vendor and it is not difficult to put one and one together to guess how the Australian spy agencies got through the back door.

The Chinese vendors were more vocal and complained of a backlash from the Huawei spying allegations of any Chinese equipment.

To this point one Canadian equipment vendor told me that it was a great time to be Canadian as they were not American and not Chinese. Then after a bit of contemplation he asked me to strike the last bit from the record.

One American vendor took my questions almost as an insult and practically shooed me out of his booth after yelling that he does not get involved with spying. I did not ask him if he was spying, but how the Snowden effect had changed things for his company over the last year. Obviously, it had affected him a lot to make him so grouchy.

My general feel on the ground suggests that Snowden and the anti-Chinese countermeasures deployed by the US propaganda machine had a major impact higher up, especially in terms of  hardware sales for network infrastructure or anything that goes into the core network.

For businesses, cloud seemed to be less of a concern, at least from the random sampling I talked to. Mistrust of public cloud in the enterprise realm simply did not get a chance to manifest itself as it was headed off by data sovereignty issues.

Public cloud seems to be largely synonymous with Google or Amazon for most people and yes, there is quite vocal mistrust there, but since most cloudy vendors were forced to run in-country anyway because of data sovereignty, it removed the big American players and the direct Snowden effect from the equation. Well, at least in the minds of the people I talked to.

The other elephant in the room was Russia and Ukraine. Until someone constructs a space elevator, the only way to get communications satellites into space is on a rocket, and for smaller satellites that often means hitching a ride on the top of a Russian-made Soyuz or at least with Russian-made rocket engines.

The nice chaps at Arianespace have three rockets at their disposal, the big Ariane 5, the midsized Soyuz and the small Vega. Grilled on the future of Soyuz, Arianespace stressed that it was a Europeanised Soyuz with European operations launched from a European base in French Guiana and that pricing was more of a concern than sanctions.

I pressed the point and asked if the issue of manned launches on Ariane 5 had been revisited given that the Russian Soyuz was now the only way to reach the International space station and again, the answer was a flat no.

Or, to spin it another way, a kid with a thumb drive wreaked far more havoc than Putin did to our industry.