30 years of post & telecommunications reform: Blocked by hurdles and pressured by the embargo

Last update 12:00 | 19/04/2017

VietNamNet Bridge – “It was a brilliant period in the post & telecommunication development history with enthusiastic leaders who had spirit of commitment, and who dared to reform, take responsibility and throw themselves in difficulties,” said Do Trung Ta, former Minister of Post & Telematics, now the Ministry of Information & Communications, recalling memories about the days of renovating the industry.

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Fomer Minister of Post & Telematics Do Trung Ta

Daring decision

After the war, Vietnam entered a very difficult period. The post & telecommunication sector operated with outdated equipment and technologies. The telephone density in Vietnam in 1985 was just 0.2 machines per 100 people, 7 times lower than African countries, while the telegraphic density was 10.27 telegrams per 100 people, or 18 times lower than Cuba’s.

At that time, people had to wait hours to get a connection if they wanted to make a call from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City.

Poet Tran Dang Khoa, in his book titled ‘Chuyen ve nguoi Buu Dien’ (the story about a postman), recalled that Dang Van Than, who was the leader of the post & telecommunication industry, then came to the conclusion that if Vietnam hesitated, it would lag behind the telecommunication revolution which was booming at that time.

Than and the industry’s leaders, after discussions, decided that it was necessary to catch up with the revolution with the industry’s strength, not relying on the support and investments from the state. They believed that the only good way for Vietnam was to march towards modern technologies, digitalization, automation and service diversification.

The first expert Than consulted was an Australian man – Graham Davey. After the meeting on Do Son Beach, Than had more reasons to believe that going straight to digital technology was a reasonable strategy.

However, a question aroseabout where Vietnam would get money to develop advanced technologies. The former Soviet Union committed to provide equipment to Vietnam, but this was backward equipment.

“It was a brilliant period in the post & telecommunication development history with enthusiastic leaders who had spirit of commitment, and who dared to reform, take responsibility and throw themselves in difficulties,” 
Do Trung Ta, former Minister of Post & Telematics, now the Ministry of Information & Communications, recalling memories about the days of renovating the industry.

The decision to use modern equipment from developed countries was a ‘daring decision’ made by the industry leaders as recalled by Tran Dang Khoa in his book.

The decision was ‘daring’ because it stirred controversy among officials and the public.

“Hindrances appeared at the time when we decided to approach new technologies. And new technologies were from capitalist countries,” Ta recalled. “As for socialist countries, we were still implementing the agreement with the former Soviet Union.”

“We decided to propose to continue importing poles, UAZ cars and solar cells from Soviet Union, but to buy equipment from other countries,” Ta said.

The second problem was that the proposal to go straight to modern technologies was anticipated to have influences on other industries which had signed contracts with socialist countries. The Ministry of Public Security, for example, had a big contract on radio information equipment.

However, Minister of Public Security Pham Hung agreed that Vietnam needed to approach new technologies.

So many big concerns were raised at that time. Than and his co-workers were warned that if Vietnam bought equipment from capitalist countries, it would become dependent on capitalist countries. Some officials feared that modern technologies and equipment would be too costly, while others warned that the high costs would put a burden on following generations.

Than was worried amid the warnings, especially in the context of the scanty budget and the US embargo. Some foreign conglomerates came to meet Vietnamese officials, but they just explored the situation.

Than, who was then strongly insistent on the decision to utilize newtechnologies, decided to approach international technology firms his own way.

The first foreign post conglomerate that Than wanted to meet was from South Korea. In the context of embargo, he went to South Korea with an ordinary passport instead of official passport.

The result of the trip was the promise from the South Korean conglomerate to sell high technologies to Vietnam, get export papers and accept deferred payments.

Than’s trip was a secret. However, many countries still knew about it. Immediately, French Alcatel, German Siemens and Italian Marconi showed their willingness to cooperate with Vietnam.

As such, the daring decision by Than and post & telecommunication leaders served as the launching pad for the industry to develop and gain brilliant success.

The source of income in the future

After that, Vietnam entered a new period – attracting investment and speeding up development. By 1995, Vietnam had digitalized the telecommunication networks to all provinces and cities, while long-distance inter-provincial and international calls had become automatic.

At first, there were only about one hundred million telephone subscribers making calls and text messages. Ten years later, Vietnam had a telecommunication network with the technology equivalent or even more advanced than some other regional countries.

Also in the year, the Prime Minister released the decision on the establishment of the Vietnam Post & Telecommunication Corporation (VNPT), the Saigon Post and Telecommunications Services Corporation and the Military Telecom Company (Viettel), starting the process of forming up a competitive market in Vietnam.

As the idea of going straight to modern technology brought success, Do Trung Ta gathered a science and technology conference in the central region in July 1995. Khanh Hoa province was then chosen as the venue for the conference, because Khanh Hoa Post Office was the bright spot in applying new science and technology in the industry.

At the conference, Ta, who was then chair of VNPT was impressed by the report of Teltic, the informatics center belonging to Khanh Hoa Post. The report mentioned the application of the wide-area computing network not only to serve management in the production and business inside the industry, but also to provide services to society, using TCP/IP protocol.

In 1996, realizing the necessity to develop informatics, which Ta believed would be the source of income of the post industry and the foundation of the society and economy, Ta organized an informatics conference. The event opened up a new development period, paving the way for the development of applications, especially software and IT apps in post & telecommunication.

Some insiders, when recalling the days, said that telecommunications then helped bring high income, and thus officials in the industries did not think it was necessary to develop informatics and information technology.

However, Ta still decided to give necessary support to technical teams to master technology, upgrade capability and create informatics products to serve society. This would be an important source of revenue for sustainable development of the industry in the future.

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This entry was posted in IT - Information Technology - Công nghệ thông tin, Telecommunications - Viễn thông and tagged , , by Trần Đình Hoành. Bookmark the permalink.

About Trần Đình Hoành

I am an attorney in the Washington DC area, with a Doctor of Law in the US, attended the master program at the National School of Administration of Việt Nam, and graduated from Sài Gòn University Law School. I aso studied philosophy at the School of Letters in Sài Gòn. I have worked as an anti-trust attorney for Federal Trade Commission and a litigator for a fortune-100 telecom company in Washington DC. I have taught law courses for legal professionals in Việt Nam and still counsel VN government agencies on legal matters. I have founded and managed businesses for me and my family, both law and non-law. I have published many articles on national newspapers and radio stations in Việt Nam. In 1989 I was one of the founding members of US-VN Trade Council, working to re-establish US-VN relationship. Since the early 90's, I have established and managed VNFORUM and VNBIZ forum on VN-related matters; these forums are the subject of a PhD thesis by Dr. Caroline Valverde at UC-Berkeley and her book Transnationalizing Viet Nam. I translate poetry and my translation of "A Request at Đồng Lộc Cemetery" is now engraved on a stone memorial at Đồng Lộc National Shrine in VN. I study and teach the Bible and Buddhism. In 2009 I founded and still manage dotchuoinon.com on positive thinking and two other blogs on Buddhism. In 2015 a group of friends and I founded website CVD - Conversations on Vietnam Development (cvdvn.net). I study the art of leadership with many friends who are religious, business and government leaders from many countries. In October 2011 Phu Nu Publishing House in Hanoi published my book "Positive Thinking to Change Your Life", in Vietnamese (TƯ DUY TÍCH CỰC Thay Đổi Cuộc Sống). In December 2013 Phu Nu Publishing House published my book "10 Core Values for Success". I practice Jiu Jitsu and Tai Chi for health, and play guitar as a hobby, usually accompanying my wife Trần Lê Túy Phượng, aka singer Linh Phượng.

One thought on “30 years of post & telecommunications reform: Blocked by hurdles and pressured by the embargo

  1. Mùa hè 1995, mình và vài chuyên gia Việt Kiều (trong đó có anh em Hồ Sĩ Khương và Hồ Sĩ Khoa, Pres. và Vice-Pres. của một công ty IT ở Pháp, và vài người nữa, quên rồi) họp ở văn phòng Ban Việt Kiều Trung Ương (32 Bà Triệu, Hà Nội, lúc đó anh Nguyễn Ngọc Trân là chủ nhiệm Ban VKTW) với anh Đố Trung Tá và một chức sắc nữa trong ngành viễn thông, anh Nguyễn Ngọc Trân cũng có mặt.

    (Lúc đó mình đang là luật sư tranh trụng cho MCI Telecommunications, công ty nổi tiếng là tiến bộ số 1 thời đó về viễn thông. MCI là công ty có vụ kiện chống độc quyền kinh tế chống hãng điện thoại độc quyền IT&T thời đó, trong 12 năm, và thắng vụ kiện, thuyết phục được chính phủ Mỹ chẻ AT&T thành 7 hãng nhỏ để có cạnh tranh kinh tế. Điều đó làm thay đổi khuôn mặt viễn thông thế giới, vì các nước khác bắt đầu theo mô hình cạnh tranh về viễn thông. Sau đó là ồ ạt những gì chúng ta thấy ngày nay: cell phone, fax, email, Internet ..)

    Trước giờ họp, các bạn nói với mình: “Anh Hoành, anh ăn nói giỏi, chút xíu họp anh nói dùm tụi tôi. Tụi tôi rành kỹ thuật nhưng nói năng không thuyết phục bằng anh.”

    Mình nhớ là cuộc họp kéo dài khoảng tiếng rưỡi, hai tiếng gì đó. Lúc đó VN đã hợp tác với Úc để cải tiến hệ thống điện thoại VN, nhưng chưa nắm bắt được nhiều về viến thông mới, vì mọi sự vẫn còn đang thay đổi với vân tốc kỷ lục kể từ sau khi MCI thắng AT&T năm 1984. lúc đó mới 1995 và cả lĩnh lực viễn thông Mỹ đang thay đổi với vân tốc chóng mặt, người trong ngành cũng chẳng đoán được điều gì xảy ra ngày mai (Các nước khác thì đều đi sau Mỹ).

    Mình nhớ điểm chính mình nói với anh Đổ Trung Tá và bạn kia là: VN phải làm bước nhảy vọt kỹ thuật. Hệ thống cáp đồng đã lỗi thời. Hiện thời có microwave (sóng vi ba) và fiber optic cable (cáp quang, lúc đó còn rất mới). Fiber optic cable thì đắt tiền mà chôn đâu thì nằm đó, lại còn mới, có thể sẽ được cải tiến nhiều trong những năm tới, cho nên ráp hệ thếng microwave để phú sóng cho cả nước dùng cho viễn thông là dễ, rẻ, và nhanh nhất. Rồi mai mốt nếu fiber optic cable thấy được, thì hãy nghí đến nó sau.

    Cùng thời gian đó mình có gặp riêng với các lãnh đạo Viettel (hình như các bạn đến văn phòng BVKTW gặp mình thì phải, mình quên rồi, chỉ nhớ một mình mình nói chuyện với dàn lãnh đạo Viettel). Lúc đó Viettel chỉ mới được chính phú cho phép ra đời, chứ chưa thực sự ra đời. Mình cũng nói với các bạn dùng microwave đê thiết lập hệ thống viễn thông (đồng thời có thể dùng nó cho quốc phòng).

    Những năm sau đó, có thể cho đến ngày nay, VN tập trung vào hệ thống phủ sóng microwwave, và hình như cho đến ngày nay ở VN cáp quang cũng chưa được chú ý như microwave.

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