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Thursday, 28 February, 2002, 17:46 GMT
Spring in the air for tech hopefuls
Patrick Sullivan and Chris Parker
Patrick Sullivan listens to e-envoy man Chris Parker
test hello test
By Robert Andrews
BBC News Online at the ICT Wales 2002 conference

Spring has sprung, there is not a trace of pessimism in the fastest-growing sector of Wales's economy.

At the biggest information technology gathering the country has ever seen, 1,200 information and community technology professionals are full of the joys of a continued tech boom.

No gloomy faces on these suited little lambs - unlike the job-hit Silicon Valley herd - as they peddle their latest killer website and software empire ambitions at the lavish, labyrinthine Celtic Manor Resort.

Evan Jones
@Wales's Evan Jones is happy looking out for new talent
Instead, just signs Wales is more than simply weathering the economic storm.

One London executive whispered his turf was "boring, depressing, dull and dead" in comparison with a buzzier Welsh scene recently replete with investment for new technology.

Just ask Roger Coghill, businessman of four decades now heading one of the world's first online DVD rental services, ViewDVD, from expanding headquarters in Pontypool.

Or Mertec business manager Jacqui Malpass, rolling out digital display screens to Welsh schools in a bid to revolutionise blackboard education.

Or Evan Jones of digital media incubator @Wales, kick-starting the fortunes of six trendy companies in Cardiff Bay.

Bright outlook

Or any of the other exhibitors convinced their product is the next big thing.

If, as analysts say, no-one cares for and tech business anymore, no-one told these young bucks, still dreaming in dollars.

London is boring, depressing, dull and dead compared to the Welsh tech scene

City advertising executive
Billionaire telecom tycoon Terry Matthews' hotel complex reeked of optimism and deal cash - at least three millionaires - but the inaugural ICT Wales gathering was not all navel gazing.

The Welsh Development Agency's director of media technology, Patrick Sullivan, said: "It's not all about business, it's about improving quality of life.

"Eighty-three year old Mrs Jones from the Valleys may be disabled and unable to leave the house.

"But, with effective use of ICT, she can carry out home shopping, have medical diagnoses via videophone and play a part in her community via e-mail."

Speedy gone south

None of which will be realised without the perennial stumbling block - broadband, or high-speed, internet access which enables that oft-dreamt bright future is still only a creeping reality in Wales and the rest of the UK.

To hasten adoption, the Welsh Assembly has now intervened, it was revealed at the conference - pressing BT hard to convert old analogue telephone exchanges to high-speed, digital capacity.

Nick Batey
Nick Batey wants the assembly to wire up Wales
Only a handful have been re-jigged by the company so far.

Assembly spokeswoman Fiona Middleton said: "I can tell you our e-minister, Andrew Davies, is involved in discussions with BT and the UK Government at the highest levels.

Assembly technology supremo Nick Batey drew up the Cymru Arlein framework document which is heading towards an ambitious target of ubiquitous broadband.

So far, 277 libraries and community centres are wired.

But Mr Batey told delegates to expect "a very positive announcement early in Spring" which, it is thought, could relate to a significant broadband package for Wales.

Speaker panel
Speakers are keen to plug new technology
"It's a hard target, but if we don't aim that high, we are going to be letting the people of Wales down," Mr Batey said.

"Nobody will be able to take advantage of the rich content from people like the BBC to learn new skills.

"You could learn to speak French using fully interactive video clips, text and sound. You would be able to videoconference with relatives in Australia."

Until then, the growing hoarde of tech hopefuls is leaving the manor with the same glint of those in the Silicon Valley goldrush.

This time, in the week Wales' e-minister was handed the full economic development reigns, this corner of south Wales is in the spotlight.

Nick Batey, Welsh Assembly
"Ubiquity is a hard target, we must aim high"
Roger Coghill, ViewDVD
"We want to create jobs and expand"
See also:

24 Jan 02 | Business
Hope lives on in Silicon Valley
26 Feb 02 | Business
Understanding broadband
24 Oct 01 | Wales
Cash to boost broadband take-up
12 Dec 01 | Wales
Assembly defends sex aids site
19 May 00 | Wales
Morgan launches cyber jobs
01 Mar 01 | Wales
Net firm takes site off market
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