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Interview with Dr. Jin Teong Ong, Director of Research and Technology, C2N Pte. Ltd., Singapore

The APRSAF Secretariat interviewed Dr. Jin Teong Ong, Director of Research and Technology, C2N Pte. Ltd., Singapore at APRSAF-20, Hanoi, Vietnam, in December 2013. Dr. Ong served as the Co-chair of the CSA working group at APRSAF-18 in Singapore. At APRSAF-20 this year, he rejoined the working group.

Networking and information exchange

Secretariat

In the CSA Working Group and other working groups, participants discussed the status of their current research and of research in other countries. I think it is a very nice idea to have such a working group within APRSAF. What do you think?

Dr. Ong

Well, it would be good to have such a forum. I first went to APRSAF in Indonesia. I participated in APRSAF-18 because I was in Singapore. And then I came to APRSAF-20, which was good networking. Actually, I just met somebody from NEC, and he was doing some work with us in Singapore. We had a project on WINDS (Wideband InterNetworking engineering test and Demonstration Satellite "KIZUNA"), so we conducted an international lecture that linked Singapore with Japan using the satellite. This man had come to install the equipment, and so he found our CSA WG (Communication Satellite Applications Working Group).

Secretariat

You have a good relation with the NEC.

Dr. Ong

I am familiar with the NEC. They have installed several satellite earth-stations in Singapore for SingTel. I had worked with SingTel on the COMET project (Communications and Broadcasting Engineering Test Satellites "Kakehashi") several years ago. Unfortunately, the satellite did not get into its intended orbit. Later we worked with JAXA on the TRMM project (Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission). They sent some equipment to Nanyang Technological University (NTU), Singapore. We also collaborated with The Rutherford Appleton Lab in UK; they installed a radar unit in Singapore. When we first started collaborating with JAXA, and I think that went on for more than a year, there were many people coming to Singapore, and I also visited Japan in turn. More recently, NTU was involved with the WINDS project.

Hosting APRSAF

Secretariat

Singapore hosted APRSAF two years ago (APRSAF-18). What are your thoughts on hosting an APRSAF meeting in your own country?

Dr. Ong

Well, I suppose it is good to have people coming to Singapore. It is good for the economy.

Secretariat

We conducted an online questionnaire survey with the APRSAF community and found that participants found information exchange to be an important purpose of APRSAF.

Dr. Ong

Yes, I agree that it is important. As I said in my presentation at APRSAF-20, there are lots of exchanges between Japan and the participating countries. However, there is not much co-operation between participating countries like Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore. It is a pity that we do not work closely together even though we are close neighbors. Collaboration takes place between Japan and other countries but not between these countries. I think this may be a funding issue. I tried to work with researchers in neighboring countries, but it is not so easy. I know a few people from Indonesia and Malaysia.

Secretariat

Speaking of space activities in your country, how do you expect to progress your activity?

Dr. Ong

Okay. This is a bit more complicated because the group I actually work with in the NTU is mainly involved with earth-satellite propagation. There is also another group in the NTU that designs and build the satellite. I am not sure why they are not involved with APRSAF-20. I think this could be a funding problem; nowadays, the university has some priorities in terms of publishing and presenting papers. They launched their own satellite last year or the year before. They had launched one with SaRC (Satellite Research Centre at NTU) not long ago, but the recent satellite was built by the NTU.

About APRSAF

Secretariat

Now of course, the number of APRSAF participants is growing year-by-year.

Dr. Ong

Yes, yes, I know. That's good.

Secretariat

We have a very wide variety of topics to cover, especially this working group, which deals with a variety of topics or problems. We have many countries dealing with diverse topics. What do you think about this?

Dr. Ong

I understand it is quite difficult. The level of expertise between participating countries is so different. As I said before, the funding is different for different countries, but it is okay. I am impressed with the work being carried out in Vietnam. For us in Singapore, I think it is a question of whether the organization would like to attend or not. It is like CRISP. They were not so active for some time. They were more involved recently because Singapore hosted APRSAF-18. That is my perception.

Secretariat

I think that CRISP is active enough.

Dr. Ong

It is the more recent thing. They are now a big center for remote sensing.

Private sector

Secretariat

By the way, I think, it is my personal impression that in Singapore, in the space activity field, the private sector is very big.

Dr. Ong

Yes, it is a bit odd. We have been doing research on earth-space propagation and systems for many years, but when we talked to some government organizations a few years ago, they were not very interested. But I think last year and this year, they suddenly became interested in satellite technology. I do not understand how that happened because I have in the past asked for support and funding to no avail. They said that our topics were not top priority. This year and last year, after AFRSAF-18, there was a company involved—a private venture encouraged by the EDB (Economic Development Board). I think the EDB has recently decided to support satellite technology. But I don't understand how they arrived at the decision, because we have been asking them for support to no avail. Then, last year, they changed their minds.

But I think they are more interested in the hardware side of space technology. We are more into earth-space propagation and systems propagation—the "software" portion, which we believe is equally important.

Secretariat

But it is your research and your study that is necessary to improve the efficiency of the satellite.

Dr. Ong

Yes. Very much so!

Space utilization as fundamental infrastructure

Secretariat

By the way, I think in Singapore too, like in Japan as well as maybe all the other Asian countries, satellite technology, including our remote sensing and communication technologies, is considered part of the country's fundamental infrastructure.

Dr. Ong

Yes, but whole satellite systems and large ground-based equipment are bought from outside Singapore. The propagation and systems aspects are very important but not well understood. This is the problem, and I think it this is a problem in Europe as well. The Rutherford Lab (UK), which we had collaborated with, is getting smaller and smaller, because of reduced funding. The administrators do not understand that if you buy a system, it has both hardware and software portions, but the latter are not as visible. This is very important because when you buy a system, you must understand the problems that come with it, especially rain in tropical regions. The system will not work for even a small percentage of the time during heavy rain. The effects of this could be significant.

Secretariat

So just buying a system or satellite creates the problem of operation.

Dr. Ong

Yes. If the satellite system is not properly designed, transmission could be lost during heavy rain. In older satellite systems, the operators at the earth stations have to manually increase transmitter power to offset increased attenuation due to rain. This adds to the cost of operating the system in the long term because of the additional manpower that is required. That is only one aspect. There could be traffic outage.

Secretariat

So I think capacity building is a very important issue for not only your country but every country in Asia.

Dr. Ong

Certainly. Many manufacturers claim that their systems are adaptive; they can look after themselves, but I am not sure.

Secretariat

I think you are working with Nanyang Technological University.

Dr. Ong

Yes.

Secretariat

As you have said in your presentation, do you actually teach or…?

Dr. Ong

No, I do not teach; I have retired from a full-time position. I am working as a consultant.

Secretariat

But do you collaborate with professors or…

Dr. Ong

I work with one professor on a satellite propagation project. I also work with another professor on broadcasting, that is, services planning for television broadcasting.

I think that's a good idea because now we are talking about how to reorganize the working group and into a sort of systems group and technology group. I particularly would like to know how to incorporate propagation and systems into the working group. At the moment, I do not know how to do that. Further consideration is needed.

Secretariat

But maybe you are still trying to solve the common problem…

Dr. Ong

Yes, it is a common problem but it…

Secretariat

…with your colleagues?

Dr. Ong

Any re-organization is difficult. I hope the changes have been carefully thought through. Personally, it is difficult for me to decide in the short time available during the discussions in Hanoi whether the new system will work or not.

Secretariat

Of course you need to consider all aspects, but you can still work with your colleagues or the working group.

Dr. Ong

That is why I have been trying to work out which new group I could contribute to in future APRSAF meetings.

Secretariat

I think you have also contributed to the CSA Working Group.

Dr. Ong

Yes, it was quite challenging. This one is not going to be very easy.

APRSAF-20

Secretariat

What do you think about this meeting in Hanoi?

Dr. Ong

It is fine. It was a very difficult business because JAXA as an organizer has some priorities. You have to balance priorities for different countries. I am impressed by the research done by the Vietnamese.

Secretariat

I feel that our Vietnamese colleagues work very hard.

Dr. Ong

Yes, I find the chairmen work very hard. The host has done a good job. A lot of work has been put in.

Message to the APRSAF community members

Secretariat

Finally, do you have any comment or message for our community members on your experience of having attended the APRSAF meeting?

Dr. Ong

Up till now, the relationship between Japan and the other community members has been radial. It would be better also to have lateral (more matrix-like) links between communities, especially those geographically close together. I have tried to encourage participation in conferences organized by NTU in the past but the responses were not so good.

Secretariat

Everybody can profit by attending the conference.

Dr. Ong

Yes. Like I said at the presentation at APRSAF-20, there are a lot of problems in research; it is not plain sailing once you have obtained funding. Often, you have the equipment and yet you cannot come out with the results. The equipment has to be looked after. It is not easy. If you have people who have more experience to help the new ones, then it will be very useful. I talk to young researchers in neighboring countries, when they present papers. I say, "oh no, no, that is not the way you should do things." I cannot say that directly, but outside the session, I can advise them.

Secretariat

You can help each other among your community.

Dr. Ong

Because if you are starting a new research project, it will be very helpful for somebody to say do this and do that. Otherwise, you can spend a lot of time doing the wrong thing, and then all the effort is wasted. It is a big problem.

Secretariat

Attending APRSAF meetings like this to get to know each other and to think about and help each other is a good start.

Dr. Ong

Yes, but it depends on both sides.

Secretariat

It is not so easy, but maybe it is a good start.

Dr. Ong

Yes, it is a good start but more can be done.

Secretariat

I know you did much for your community and your colleagues.

Dr. Ong

Yes. I do what I can.

Secretariat

Thank you Dr. Ong.

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