ITU: Asia to Drive Telecommunications Growth

Having gotten back on the growth track after the economic turmoil of recent years, the Asia-Pacific region is poised to regain its place as the pre-eminent telecommunications growth market in the world, according to extracts of a new report on the region's telecommunications industry published yesterday by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU).

The release of the report coincided with the Monday opening of the ITU's Telecom Asia 2000 conference and exhibition in Hong Kong. In the report, the ITU detailed the current state and provide an outlook of telecommunications in the region. Currently, the Asia-Pacific region accounts for almost 60 percent of the world's population but only 30 percent of the world's telecommunications subscribers. That fact alone, said the ITU, demonstrated the considerable potential in the region.

The roll-out of telecommunications in the Asia-Pacific region is expanding rapidly not only in absolute terms, but also in its relative share of the world market, the ITU wrote in the report. In 1990, the region's fixed telephone lines made up 23 percent of the world's total of 490 million lines, a share which by January 2000 had grown to 33 percent out of a total of 905 million lines.

By 2010, that share is projected to reach 46 percent of the total 1.5 billion fixed lines the ITU projects will have been installed at the end of this decade. At the same time, ten years from now, two out of every three new fixed-line telephony users in the world will be Asian, the report said.

In mobile telephony, the impact of the rapid growth taking place in Asia-Pacific is even more striking, the ITU added. In the early 1990s there were less than 1 million mobile phone users in the region for a 13 percent share of the world total. By early 2000, that had expanded to around 170 million, or 35 percent of the total of 490 million mobile phone users worldwide -- and growth in the region continues to outpace the rest of the world. In 2010, the ITU predicts that half of the world's 2.2 billion mobile users will be in the Asia-Pacific region.

To be sure, Asia-Pacific already has some success stories. Five of the top ten Internet markets in the world are in the region and in the mobile phone market China and Japan rank number two and three respectively in subscriber numbers, surpassed only by the U.S., Yoshio Utsumi, secretary-general of the ITU, said in a presentation here Monday.

In some of the region's more affluent markets, including Hong Kong, Japan, South Korea, Singapore and Taiwan,cellular growth has been so fast that already the number of mobile subscribers outranks that of fixed-line subscribers, Utsumi added.

But the picture is not all rosy, and in many other countries in the region both fixed line and mobile phone penetration remains very low.

Myanmar, for example, has just 0.55 fixed lines per hundred people and mobile telephone penetration is even lower at 0.03 lines per hundred. Even in China, which now boasts the world's second largest fixed-line network, penetration was 8.58 lines per hundred people, according to the ITU.

Around 6 million people are waiting for fixed lines and many have not even applied for service because they cannot afford the charges, the ITU said, with less than one-fifth of households in the developing nations of the region having access to their own telephone service.

From the G8 Summit in Japan to efforts by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), the theme of universal access is one that is coming into the spotlight more and more as technological advances have made putting the Internet and voice into remote areas easier and cheaper than ever before.

During an opening address on Sunday, Utsumi told dignitaries that universal access to telecommunications is a matter of justice and the goal should be to put telecommunications access within walking distance of everyone.

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