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Microsoft in talks with property companies on leading-edge, fully wired homes

Doug Nairne

Microsoft wants to make Hong Kong the international centre of excellence for its .Net digital-home technology.

The company is in talks with property developers to determine when fully wired residential buildings can be built.

Microsoft's Hong Kong general manager Graham Brant said if the SAR became the test bed for the technology, it would mean leadership of the next generation of the Internet.

'We are actively looking at a number of partners in Hong Kong at the moment. If there is enough interest, this place could easily become our centre of excellence,' Mr Brant said.

The digital-home concept uses the Internet to link smart appliances and computers inside the residence and beyond. For example, if an appliance is not working it will send an e-mail message asking for repairs. Homes could also be instructed remotely to carry out basic tasks. A person returning home from work could send a message through a WAP (wireless application protocol) phone to turn on the air-conditioning. Microsoft has promised more entertaining applications, including digital picture frames that display photos sent from a computer or digital camera.

Most of the applications are still in the concept stage, but Microsoft is confident that if it can put the software in place to run the system, others will build the appliances and gadgets that will use it. The property developers are key allies, because the technology requires built in high-speed networks.


Mr Brant said Hong Kong was the logical choice as a test location, with a high population density, widespread access to broadband Internet service and well-developed communications networks.

He said the proposal's success would depend largely on how much interest was shown by potential partners.

Jay Chang, of CSFB in Hong Kong, said Microsoft would have to make a strong sales pitch to get property developers interested in investing money in technology projects.

'I think they would have been a lot more interested six months ago. But Microsoft is a big company and I am sure they will make a strong case,' Mr Chang said.


Leading developers contacted would not comment on their interest in the project, but sources said discussions were underway with at least two companies and, as news spread, developers were approaching Microsoft to get involved. A team of Microsoft engineers from the company's model digital home in Seattle, will be in Hong Kong this week to display the technology. Mr Brant said he planned to take a group of developers to the United States soon to visit the Seattle site. He said construction could start on the first fully digital residential buildings within a few months.

If Microsoft received enough support to move the plan ahead, Mr Chang said there would be numerous benefits, including the creation of skilled jobs and the potential for increased research and development.


It would also give Hong Kong people the chance to use new technology before anyone else.

Mr Chang said the SAR's high-rise buildings made it an ideal location to test the .Net technology. With so many residents living in a relatively small area, it was easier to get a critical mass of people using the system, as opposed to North America, where more people lived in detached homes, he said.