Big birds like the Hughes HS702 will help keep the Internet moving
Participants in CommunicAsia 2000, the region's biggest telecoms conference and trade show, said present tariff structures will have to change with wireless Internet access set for explosive growth.
"The tariffs have to come down. The only way to bring them down is to open these markets," Masood Tariq, president of Canada-based Nortel Networks' service provider solutions in Asia.
Internet access via mobile phones is the hottest new trend in telecommunications and the region is expected to be a key driver of global growth. By one estimate mobile phones could outstrip personal computers as the main mode of Internet access in three years' time.
While some countries such as Australia, Singapore and Hong Kong have forged ahead with opening up their telecoms sectors, much remains to be done elsewhere in the region.
"It will be near to impossible for national regulators to take a neutral stance on the issue of lowering tariffs as competition heats up," said Tariq. "Once they (competitors) push the prices down, usually the regulators will have to give way."
The region also needs to invest in new infrastructure to meet the expected growth in demand, he added.
Asia-Pacific countries can recoup their investments in two to three years with advances in technology, he said. China for instance, is aggressively building networks with high-capacity bandwidth.
China's entry into the World Trade Organization "will certainly help in further deployment of new services," and its mobile phone market will evolve very rapidly, he added.
The region is quickly adopting the Wireless Application Protocol (WAP) standard which allows the Internet to be accessed through mobile devices.
Internet access via WAP in the region is set to surpass the levels in Europe and North America by 2003, as the level of personal computer ownership in Asia is still low by global standards, Tariq said.
Given the diversity in Asian economies, the pace of liberalization will be uneven.
"The real issue is how to maintain margins with increasing competition," said Ron Spithill, Alcatel's president for the Asia-Pacific region. "Value-added services will be the key in the longer-term," he said.
Operators can resolve the issue of high costs by offering services in a single package.
"The price will fall as people bundle the services," said Larry Schwartz, US information technogy firm Compaq's vice president for telecommunications.
In other developments at the trade show, European satellite launching consortium Arianespace said Internet usage in Asia will fuel demand for satellite services as traditional land lines are inadequate for the region's growing needs.
"We see good prospects for satellite in Asia because the terresterial infrastructure here is not as developed as in the US," said Jacques Rossignol, Arianespace chief operating officer.
"There will be difficulties for the region to catch up with the fast expansion in the Internet and satellite is the solution," he told AFP.
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