Understanding Technology Through Travel - Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia

My (Sam Rosen) Executive MBA Class at Arizona State University’s WP Carey School of Business recently took our international trip to Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia. While I was unable to load the agenda with as many media and technology visits as I would have liked to, I was able to reach some conclusions about technology penetration in developing economies:

The GDP of Thailand (forecast 2011) is $4647, Vietnam $1296 and Cambodia less than $1000. While Vietnam’s productivity is lower, its higher energy, neon electronic signs, and more apparent use of technology give it the aura of a more advanced nation (this may have been skewed slightly by the fact more of my time was spent in Ho Chi Minh City with less rural exposure in Vietnam).

Higher GDP leads to higher discretionary income which leads to more adoption of pay TV (and advanced TV) platforms. However, nothing drives this home, and allows you to make judgments about “wealth” like seeing terrestrial TV antennas raised from the roofs of “poor” boat homes on Tonle Sap lake near Siem Reap (http://yfrog.com/h6buyhj), Cambodia while a home on a barge moving slowly down the Chao Phra Ya river in Bangkok features a True satellite dish (http://yfrog.com/h0pq3bbj).
We most likely underestimate the impact on second hand electronics in developing markets. In Bangkok I walked through an electronics marketplace with cheap used remote controls, console TVs, and cable / satellite boxes (http://yfrog.com/h4e3p3j). Our Cambodian hotel built around 2007 featured early-2000 era console TVs with about 15-inch screens and gigantic bezels (although it had more than 50 channels from India, Asia and the West).

The streets of Vietnam are littered with “black noodles” (http://yfrog.com/h3wwwcj) – gigantic messy bundles of telephone wires resulting from constantly stringing new wires without planning or organization. I’m told there is a 5 year plan to bury telephone wires – presumably with fiber – which is underway but under-funded. The cable infrastructure is apparently underground and not so messy.

I’ll be taking these experiences together with interviews on other parts of Asia (China, India, Japan, Korea) to create a “Technology in Asia” report for our Digital Living Service to be published in Q2.