While the Asia Pacific region is making accelerated progress in the telephony sector, the area in which the region really stands out is the uptake of advanced Internet technologies, especially broadband Internet access.
This is according to a report by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU). The ITU launched its key Telecommunication/ICT Indicators Report for the Asia-Pacific region, at the ITU Telecom Asia 2008 in Bangkok, Thailand, on Sept. 1.
The report noted that the Asia-Pacific region is the world's largest broadband market with a 39 per cent share of the globe's total at the end of 2007. In terms of broadband access, the region has seen subscriber numbers growing almost five-fold in five years: from 27 million at the beginning of 2003 to 133 million at the start of 2008.
Ever Faster Access
In the region's high-income economies, ubiquitous access is progressing through a competitive race to provide ever faster fixed broadband access, the report said.
Providing concrete examples, the report highlighted that operators in Hong Kong (China) and Japan have launched 1G-bps (gigabits per second) broadband and triple-play services aimed at the residential market, featuring applications such as Internet telephony and television. The Republic of Korea leads the world in terms of the percentage of households with fixed broadband access, and no less than five economies in the top ten are from Asia-Pacific. The Republic of Korea, Hong Kong and Japan also lead the world in terms of the proportion of households with fiber optic connections, essential for supporting the next generation of ultra-high speed Internet applications.
Leaders in 3G Mobile
The ITU report further noted that these high-income economies are also leaders in terms of third generation (3G) mobile cellular deployment. "Fixed and mobile broadband technologies complement each other and users enjoy continuous high-speed Internet access," it said.
Citing the case of the Lion City, the report said that in Singapore, a ubiquitous Internet access plan combining unlimited 8M-bps (megabits per second) fixed broadband, 2 M-bps mobile broadband and access at some 800 WiFi hotspots is available for just US$35 per month.
Regional Broadband Divide
However, not everyone lives the ultimate high-speed Internet access experience, the report said.
"The regional broadband divide is striking, with poor economies having a close-to-zero broadband penetration, compared to that of rich economies where one in four persons is a broadband subscriber," the report noted.
According to the report, the gap in available broadband speeds between rich and poor countries is as wide as broadband penetration. In Japan, the Republic of Korea and Hong Kong, the minimum advertised broadband speed is faster than the maximum broadband speed in Cambodia, Tonga, Laos and Bangladesh.
Mobile Broadband Lagging
Another significant point raised by report is how mobile phones are not yet fulfilling the potential of broadband access. "By the end of 2007, only Indonesia, the Maldives, the Philippines and Sri Lanka had commercially deployed WCDMA networks," the report said. "The region's two largest mobile markets, China and India, have yet to launch mobile broadband. By the end of 2007, there were over 120 million mobile broadband subscribers in the region, but almost all (97 percent) were in high income economies."
The report also argues that broadband uptake enables a range of socially desirable and valuable online services in areas such as government, education and health. It also identifies a number of obstacles that policy-makers must address to overcome the broadband gap.