Telecom Asia 2002 was a premier showcase for new products,
technologies, and services in the area of communications.
With Asia-Pacific emerging as one of the worlds leading
telecommunications markets, both in terms of growing
subscriber base as well as newer technology deployment,
this year's event (held in Honk Kong between 2-7 December
2002) was especially significant.
The event was a launching pad for an exciting slew of
new products. This year's spotlight was on transport
and network management, broadband, IP and next-generation
In the areas of IP and next-generation networking, vendors
such as Metalink, Cisco and Comtec were demonstrating
technologies that would allow service providers to roll
out multiple services including the usual voice, video
and data over the same network.
Industry heavyweights like IBM, Sun, etc were demonstrating
new equipment and deployment models that would enable
telecom service providers to quickly develop, deploy
and integrate new revenue-generating services.
Everyone seemed to be interested in the much-hyped,
next-generation wireless technologies. Vendors like
Agilent were demonstrating tools for implementing and
managing 2.5/3G cellular networks, which the company
claimed would allow service providers to roll out services
based on these technologies as quickly and cost-effectively
as possible. NTT DoCoMo was demonstrating FOMA 3G (Freedom
of Multimedia Access) solutions, while Ericsson was
showcasing some of its latest next-generation handsets.
ITU Telecom Asia 2002 also had discussion forums on
issues ranging from 'Bridging the digital divide' to
'Defining the future of telecommunications and networking.'
Here are the highlights for some of these areas.
A new kind of 'Digital Divide'
Digital Divide has been a fashionable topic among the
digiterati over the last decade. There have been many
seminars with themes on helping developing or third-world
nations bridge this gap. Telecommunications plays a
crucial role in bridging this divide.
Telecommunications has made remarkable progress over
the last decade in many parts of Asia. The ITU Asia-Pacific
Telecommuni-cation Indicators 2002 report says that
the epicenter of the telecom industry is shifting from
North America and Europe to the Asia-Pacific. A case
in point: About a decade ago Asia accounted for only
22 percent of the world's telecom subscribers, compared
to 36 percent in Europe. Now it has 36 percent of the
subscriber base (both fixed and mobile)a number
larger than both US and Europe. The cost of basic telephony
has also come down fourfold over this period.
ITU believes that the gap between digital haves and
have-nots has narrowed significantly. However, the rapid
change in telecom technology itself is creating a new
kind of divide. As ITU Secretary-General Yoshio Utsumi
puts it: A new king of digital divide based on the usage
of more sophisticated, advanced telecommunication technologiesthat
include broadband, WLANs, PDAs and other new information
and telecommunication technologies are emerging.
In short, it is the very nature or 'definition of the
divide' that is undergoing a transformation.
So while developing countries are still in the process
of implementing basic telephony services, advanced countries
are focused on rolling out wireline and wireless broadband
As per the ITU Asia-Pacific Telecommunication Indicators
2002 report, broadband can provide critical services
such as health and education to overcome the limitations
of existing human and physical infrastructure, something
that is and will continue to be a limiting factor for
basic voice infrastructure.
The Government's role
Telecommunications plays an important role in socio-economic
development of any country. That explains why telecom
is as much driven by government policies in a particular
country as it is by technology or costs. The government
usually sets the broad telecom objectives and ensures
standards compatibility. In the wireless space, the
government plays the crucial role of spectrum allocation.
Unfortunately, in many cases the government also considers
the national carrier (telecommunications overall) from
purely monetary perspectives rather than as a driver
for socio-economic development. This results in either
unreasonably high tariffs or licensing fees or still
worst, blocking new or disruptive technologies to protect
state-owned telecom monopolies. An example being VoIP.
VoIP allows consumers to make cheap long-distance calls.
Yet, in many countries (India to an extent as well),
VoIP usage is still restrictive in many ways. This puts
it out of reach of the common man who is still forced
to pay substantially high for national and international
Technology by itself cannot solve all problems of development,
but it can help significantly. Governments need to understand
this and identify new opportunities where telecom can
promote community-building and economic progress.
Government should act as a facilitator for the growth
of telecommunicationseither wired or wirelessrather
than treating their national carriers as pure cash cows.
The future is IP
ITU was also an occasion to seek some pointers towards
the future of telecommunications.
And if ITU and vendors like Cisco are to be believed,
the future of telecommunications lies in IP, the very
standard that popularized enterprise networking.
The ITU Asia-Pacific Telecommunication Indicators 2002
states that, while five years ago the focus might have
been on telephone lines and international voice traffic,
the emphasis has shifted to Internet, mobile communications,
and high-speed broadband networks. Future networks will
be IP-based and it's only a matter of time before circuit-switched
This is further seconded by a (Cisco-commissioned) AC
Nielsen survey of 276 IT decision makers in enterprise
and government organizations across Asia-Pacific. As
per the survey, 60 percent of the respondents have plans
to adopt managed IP solutions such as workforce optimization
and customer care. This represents a huge potential
market for traditional telecom service providers who
can provide value-added managed IP services to corporate
The survey also highlighted an interesting trend in
the enterprise space: It found out that 50 percent of
all enterprise users plan to adopt Internet business
solutions like IP telephony and IP VPNs in the next
24 months. The key drivers for adoption of IP in the
enterprise are: Increased functionality (55 percent),
improved time-to-market (53 percent) and cost savings
Telecom Asia 2002 was the occasion for presentation
of many research reports and surveys, the most
important among them being ITU Asia-Pacific Telecommunication
Indicators 2002. The report shows some interesting
trends in the areas of telecom penetration, broadband
access and mobile voice and Internet. Here are
a few interesting snippets from the report:
Mobile all the way
Mobile users have outstripped fixed-line customers
in 23 Asian countries. The Asia-Pacific region
is poised to overtake Europe as the world's
largest market during 2002, although mobile
penetration is less than 10 percent. Two of
the top three mobile economies worldwide (measured
by mobile phones per capital) are from this
region. They are Taiwan and Hong Kong.
The region also has the largest number of mobile
Internet users namely in Japan and Korea.
Increased Net usage
The notion that restriction on content
would hinder Internet usage in Asia has been
proved wrong. With 160 million users, the region
now accounts for one-third of the total Internet
users in the world. This has been primarily
due to innovative schemes for community access,
online gaming, and
Asia-Pacific leads the world in broadband Internet
with five Asian economies among the top 12 worldwide
in terms of penetration. Capacity on Internet
bandwidth has increased eight-fold over the
last 2 years from 8 Gbps to 65 Gbps.