In a frustrating press conference Tuesday, Microsoft Thailand and a handful of partners outlined their focus for 2017, which included cloud, IoT, security and even machine learning – but not blockchain, which is, for all intents and purposes, still illegal in Thailand until new regulations on currency controls are enacted.
Orapong Thien-Ngern, general manager of Microsoft Thailand, talked to a small group of reporters about trends for 2017, of which cloud computing and the Internet of Things would be at the forefront. Other key technologies that have reached maturity and are expected to be big in 2017 are analytics, big data and machine learning.
Pratthana Leelapanang, acting chief marketing officer at AIS, said that 2017 would be the year of IoT, thanks to the finalized standard for NB-IoT. He reiterated in more detail the partnership with Microsoft on this week’s Office 365 launch. AIS now runs an edge node in Thailand not just for Office 365, but for all Microsoft Azure cloud services. This is supplemented by two dedicated links to data centers in Singapore and Hong Kong for redundancy and to avoid congestion, greatly improving the user experience.
Before this partnership, companies deploying cloud services often found themselves having to pay for dedicated overseas links to ensure reliability, and often the cost of the connectivity exceeded the cost of the cloud service itself.
AIS also now resells and supports all Microsoft products.
Santi Kiranand, SE-VP of the Stock Exchange of Thailand, gave an example of how IoT was now a reality, citing one of his listed companies, Ananada Properties, which is now selling smart, connected condominiums (something it’s been trying to do so since the 2G days). SETTrade is also experimenting with AI to select stocks based on a trader’s risk and behavioral profile to push them news and other value added services. If SETTrade does not adapt and move up the value chain, it will soon go out of business in this cutthroat environment, he noted.
Nontawat Poomchusri, MD of Accenture Thailand, chimed in that 2017 was a year for IoT and machine learning in Thailand. Accenture has been focusing on organizational transformation with its customers in order to help bring about the change.
But what about the blockchain?
But throughout the first round of comments, the subject of blockchain or cryptocurrency was conspicuous in its absence.
Asked why Microsoft was not heavily promoting its Azure blockchain-as-a-service solutions, and Project Bletchley in particular, Orapong said that the supporting ecosystem in Thailand – especially the regulatory environment – was simply not ready.
“For remittance, we have Ethereum and Ripple, but what of settlement and foreign exchange? That is needed, but it is not yet part of the ecosystem,” he said. “The technology is valid, it is a good concept, but it is not yet ready to scale.”
Nontawat said that Accenture’s position echoed that of Microsoft’s. Accenture is investing heavily in blockchain startups – but for commercial use, the ecosystem is not ready.
Santi of SET stopped beating around the bush and blurted out the unpleasant truth: blockchains are used for cryptocurrencies and cryptocurrencies are illegal under Thai law. “We need to have clear regulations on cryptocurrencies,” he said.
The Stock Exchange of Thailand is developing a settlement system for use with certain trusted brokers in a test that will be launched by Q3 this year. The problem is that tokens cannot be used for settlement, as then they could be used instead of fiat money and could be converted. But converting tokens to fiat gets involved with foreign exchange laws that makes it impossible to implement under current regulations. Blockchain can be used in internal circles for testing or with trusted partners, but it cannot be used in public where they cannot control their exposure.
Disruptive.Asia asked Microsoft to comment on a recent publication on the state of surveillance in Thailand by Privacy International, in which they discovered that Windows 10 was recently updated to include the Thai government’s root CA in its list of trusted certificates. This would allow anyone controlling the certificate to perform a man-in-the-middle attack and intercept SSL encrypted websites and email traffic to spy on Thai citizens.
The Microsoft country manager shuffled round uncomfortably and said that he had heard about the Privacy International allegations in briefings but he does not know the technical aspects and is not qualified to answer.
“I dare not answer. I am not the expert. It is too complex. But I am sure that your data with us is secure,” he said.
Pushed on how Microsoft and AIS could even contemplate offering cloud services, given the draconian provisions of the recently passed Computer Crime Act (specifically, Section 16, which criminalizes mere possession of inappropriate data as declared by a court, and Section 20, which empowers the Digital Economy ministry to delete immoral information from any computer system), Orapong said only that it was important to separate the emotional hype from reality. What he did say that Microsoft has 400 million customers and the business would not be possible if they did not trust Microsoft with their personal information.
AIS’ Pratthana at least sounded more confident in his non-reply, simply stating that AIS does not comment on this government’s policies.