Computer-Mediated Communication Magazine / Volume 1, Number 2 / June 1, 1994 / Page 3

Japan Slow on Internetworking

by Bruce Hahne (
Disclaimer: The opinions below are my own do not necessarily represent those of my employer or any other organization.

TOKYO (May 18) The Business Show '94 in Tokyo filled seven exhibition halls. I only had time to see three of them, but this is my account of what I saw (or didn't see) at the show.

The focus of this show is (mostly) on information technology for businesses, though there did seem to be many companies there pushing lamination machines, stationery, package-binding machines, and even one booth advertising ball-point pens. However, the bulk of the booths were advertising computers, software, or computer peripherals.

I saw gobs of personal computers, plenty of portables, and a lot of Unix workstations. Almost everything was either running Windows or Unix (usually X/Motif as the GUI), and I only saw one Macintosh other than the three at the Apple display. I also saw lots of fax machines, printers, fancy telephones, pagers, and quite a few PDA's. Maybe everyone's in a hurry to clone the Newton. Client-server was also a big buzzword in a lot of displays, especially from the big players like Toshiba, Hitachi, Mitsubishi, etc.

The big question I have is: where was all of the routing equipment?? If I were at a similar show in the U.S., I would hope I'd see a lot of ethernet hubs, token ring hubs, routers, gateways, wireless routers, etc. The show suggested to ME, at least, that right now Japan is big on selling computers to business people but not nearly so big on connecting computers together.

I was keeping my eyes out for the magic word "Internet" in katakana, but I saw it almost not at all. I did manage to find one AT&T SPIN/JENS handout, not from an AT&T booth (AT&T did not attend, though NTT was, of course, there), but rather from the table of a small business software consortium hiding in obscurity in the back of one of the exhibition halls. The brochure is almost content-free; just a single fold-out with a brief mention of Gopher, email, WAIS, netnews, and a few other services inside. It's all text; no pictures of Mosaic or anything interesting at all, for that matter. If I were trying to sell Internet to Japanese businesses, I think I'd push "internationalization" and "globalization", two nice buzzwords here in Japan. And at least show some pretty pictures of NTT's Japanese WWW home page, or something similar. Maybe AT&T still needs to figure out how to advertise SPIN. On the other hand, they do have at least 50 SPIN participants already; a full list was recently posted to one of our local newsgroups.

The "display worth the most giggles" award goes to Panasonic for trying, with a straight face, to present 3DO as a business system. They suggested using it for interactive staff training and a couple of other possible business uses, but most of the businessmen at the 3DO display seemed more interested in trying out the video games.

Immediately adjacent to the 3DO display, NEC stole the show by presenting a real-time unrigged demo of their outlook on interactive multimedia. They had a large stage with a central multi-panel screen about eight feet by eight feet, plus other smaller monitors mounted high up so that you could see even if you were in back. The real star of the show was their ten-channel ATM video switcher (total bandwidth over 1Gbps, I believe) which sat prominently at center stage. As the hostesses gave their spiel, video cameras mounted in the ceiling of the stage were broadcasting them in real-time onto the central screen along with a lot of prerecorded PR graphics. I know all of this is not too hard to do with today's technology, but every time in the past that I've seen a demo of "real time video", what I end up seeing is either a very tiny image, a very sluggishly-updated image, or a very fuzzy image, with things getting worse if you start mixing in computer-generated graphics with the camera view(s).

We also got to see a demo of NEC's view of the future of home shopping coupled with interactive video; Ichiro calls his girlfriend Maiko and they talk over their real-time video phone, then they click on the shopping menu, go searching through a list of dresses, bring up a video clip of a (western) model showing off Maiko's favorite dress, and finally cut to an operator to place an order. Both Ichiro and Maiko were played by a live actor and actress, so this was no prerecorded demo; as they spoke, you saw them talking on the central screen. I didn't find the home shopping example to be a very good one, though; do you really want to buy an expensive item of clothing when you haven't even tried it on?

So, whether it's old hat technology to some of you or not, the above was a welcome change from the large numbers of presentations selling yet another 486DX66 box, Unix box, or color printer. Even though I may not agree with NEC's vision of the future, I was glad to see that they're thinking about it.

Bruce Hahne graduated from Cornell University in 1993 with an M.S. in Electrical Engineering. He is presently employed by Mitsubishi Electric Corporation in Ofuna, Japan.

Editor's Note: Japan observers note that LANs are demonstrated at a separate show in Japan, and that Japanese business publications regularly cover Internet issues.

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