I am going to take a break from my series on Video Quality this week, as I am on a short vacation in Thailand.  This country has long been one of my favorite places - the beauty of the southern islands and the northern mountains can rival any place in the world.  And, for US-based travelers, it doesn't hurt that the US Dollar has remained relatively steady against the Thai Baht for a few years now.

 On this trip, I am spending most of my time in the capital city, known to foreigners as Bangkok.  Thai people refer to their capital as "Krung Thep" which is a not a bad idea, as the official formal name of the city is  Krung Thep Mahanakhon Amon Rattanakosin Mahinthara Yuthaya Mahadilok Phop Noppharat Ratchathani Burirom Udomratchaniwet Mahasathan Amon Phiman Awatan Sathit Sakkathattiya Witsanukam Prasit.  I am not sure of the exact translation, but a former business colleague told me that school children memorize the name as a song.

 Any visitor to Bangkok will notice the many pictures and images of the much-respected King, Bhumibol Adulyadej.  During his reign, H.M. the King has done many things to improve the life of the Thai people, and he is widely loved.  King Bhumibol is the world's longest-serving current head of state, having reigned since June, 1946.  Just to put that into perspective, especially for fans of American college football, King Bhumibol had been reigning in Thailand for four years before Joe Paterno became an assistant football coach at Penn State University.

 Apart from a travelogue, I wanted to share some local observations related to the wireless world here.  First, as you might expect, nearly everyone has a mobile phone; the population of the country is 64 million (many living in very rural areas), and there are 60 million wireless subscribers.  While the iPhone is certainly available in Thailand, the buzz in this place is still reserved for the latest models from Nokia.  The N97 and "Express Music" models, which were so hot when I visited several months ago, are now being eclipsed by anticipation of the N900.  Also, the advertising of BlackBerry devices has increased dramatically here since my last visit.  Thailand might be one of the countries where the BlackBerry is rolling out primarily as a consumer device rather than as a corporate tool.

 One of the bigger disappointments in the Thai market is the quality and capacity of the wireless networks.  As in many Asian countries, phones here are typically sold without being tied to (and subsidized by) a contract from a service provider, so users can choose the service provider with the best deal.  Companies providing local wireless service are continually offering cut-throat promotions to gain market share.  Unfortunately, these promotions are sometimes so effective that they generate more users (and usage) than the networks can handle.  A couple of years ago, the providers invested more heavily in advertising than in infrastructure, and the result was that it was nearly impossible for a voice call to be completed without several attempts.  Things have calmed a bit since then.

 One of the remaining ironies, though, is that consumers are running around with the latest devices, but connecting them to yesterday's networks.  An auction for 3G licenses in Thailand is scheduled for December of this year, and the only current 3G deployments are in small "test" areas.  I can't imagine the frustration of the consumers here who are equipped with devices to handle all sorts of new services and applications, and can use them only with pre-3G network technologies.

 Looking once again beyond wireless network technologies, Thailand provides a visitor with tremendous tourist opportunities.  The food alone is worth the trip, with each dish balanced among spicy, sweet, sour, and salty flavors.  The next time you are looking for a chance to get away from the daily routine, please consider a visit to the Kingdom.