While mobile and broadband subscriber growth across Asia is a great story and one repeatedly trumpeted at events like ITU Telecom Asia being held in Bangkok this week, the fact is that the telecoms industry is in the midst of a major transformation.
'The business model used to be easy - there were voice-only players,' Reza Jafari, managing director of Eaton International and chairman of the ITU board, said during the opening forum entitled 'New Generation, New Values'.
Business models are more complex. For example, the telcoms and banking industries are merging, he said. 'The customer is at the center, and operators no longer own the customer, they own us. They have choice and are just one click away from leaving.'
ITU secretary general Hamadoun Toure noted that Asia Pacific has become a global leader for innovation in telecoms with one in three people now owning a mobile phone across the entire region -- up from just one in 14 just ten years ago. In Thailand mobile penetration has jumped from 16% to almost 80% in just five years. In addition, internet penetration in the region has tripled to more than 560 million connections.
Yet he said that there still exists a huge gap between the region's high-income economies and the low and lower-middle income economies, which often have severely limited or no connectivity for major population segments. He pointed out that bandwidth capacity varies widely within Asia, with India having just 1/50th of China's capacity.
He said that Asia has always demonstrated a strong ability to adapt to new challenges. 'There is still work to be done to address this growing gap, and I believe it will not be long before the necessary capacity is added and the right to communicate is extended to all people in the region, with the corresponding benefits to health care, education and commerce.'
Thailand's Minister of Information and Communication Technology Mun Patanotai stressed the need for cyber security and said that all parties involved need to support expanded capacity as well as build a culture of security across borders.
China Mobile chairman and CEO Jianzhou Wang said this new generation is the connected generation, which is driving new applications and services and forcing cooperation between telecom operators and internet companies. While uncomfortable to some, it's the key to survival going forward.