Brunei Darussalam: Increasingly ready for ICT

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Thanks to the government’s incentives to take up the latest technology, along with a greater willingness among the private sector to take advantage of information and communications technology (ICT) in business, Brunei Darussalam’s ICT sector is witnessing some growth.

The Sultanate’s steady improvement is reflected in the findings of the latest Global Information Technology Report, prepared on behalf of the World Economic Forum (WEF). Released in early April, the study ranked Brunei Darussalam 54th out of 142 countries on its Networked Readiness Index, which grades economies on their usage, acceptance and efficiency of ICT.

This year’s ranking was a three-rung improvement on Brunei’s 2011 performance, a jump due to better infrastructure and in part reflecting the accelerated penetration of the internet and a stepping up of e-government projects. Since first being included in the WEF’s survey in 2008, the Sultanate has been progressing through the rankings, having started out that year in the 63rd spot.

The country scored well in some key areas, such as the government’s success in prioritising the use of ICT, where it was ranked 37th; internet access in schools (also 37th); homes with internet access (25th); and households with a personal computer (19th).

One area the report identifies as needing improvement is the private sector’s capacity for innovation, where it was ranked 75th globally. While well below its overall standing on the readiness index, this is a marked improvement on the 83rd placing it held just one year before.

This suggests a far greater willingness by businesses to adopt and adapt ICT for their own usage, and if this trend continues through the coming years, the private sector could start to rival the state as a driving force for change in the industry.

While the WEF found that the Sultanate’s basic ICT infrastructure was indeed strong, the government is moving to strengthen it further by developing enhanced capacity to take into account future demands. In early April, the Brunei Economic Development Board (BEDB) announced a new submarine cable would soon be laid to further strengthen the country’s ICT infrastructure backbone. The new cable, which will boost connectivity to Southeast Asia, will be in service in 2013, BEDB officials said.

Brunei Darussalam is already served by two undersea links. The first is the Asia-America Gateway, a submarine cable that runs 20,000 km around the Pacific which began operating in 2010. The second cable is older and somewhat slower and connects Southeast Asia, the Middle East and Western Europe.

The new cable will provide a higher level of redundancy for the country, meaning that not only will the Sultanate’s ICT sector have even more capacity at its fingertips but also additional back up in case one of the other cable systems goes down. Such excess capacity will also serve Brunei Darussalam well, as it aspires to become an international ICT centre, with particular focus on promoting itself as a global data storage and recovery centre.

Closer to home, Telekom Brunei (TelBru) has been working to improve local connectivity, rolling out its fibre-to-the-home (FTTH) links, a project the fixed-line operator says will eliminate up to 80% of connection difficulties and dramatically increase download speeds. While the FTTH project will take time, with TelBru expecting to have around 90% national coverage by 2017, many of the major population centres will be linked into the new network by the end of 2012.

These advances and the government’s backing for them were acknowledged by Tang Choeng Weng, the country manager for IBM’s Malaysian, Bruneian and Cambodian operations, who sees the Sultanate as having a clear vision of its ICT future.

“Brunei is a developed country and it is in a unique position, where it has got both the vision and the desire to be among the top 20, in terms of e-government readiness, and it has the resources to do so,” Tang said in an interview with The Brunei Times on April 24.

Given the country’s drive to increase its usage of ICT in both the public and private spheres, Tang said IBM was looking to raise its profile in the Sultanate by developing a closer relationship with business and the state.

With the government’s plans to improve data transfer speeds through a reinforced infrastructure backbone at home and even faster international links, Brunei Darussalam’s ICT capacity should be boosted in the coming years, and its WEF readiness ranking further bolstered, particularly if the private sector takes the government’s lead and better applies innovations to economic activity.

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