Asia-Pacific world’s largest broadband market, but wide gap in access, says UN

2 September 2008

While some countries in Asia and the Pacific – the world’s largest broadband market – have high speed and affordable Internet access, the same cannot be said for most of the region’s poorer nations, the United Nations International Telecommunications Union (ITU) said today.

While some countries in Asia and the Pacific – the world’s largest broadband market – have high speed and affordable Internet access, the same cannot be said for most of the region’s poorer nations, the United Nations International Telecommunications Union (ITU) said today.

In its Telecommunication/Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Indicators Report for Asia and the Pacific, the ITU states that Internet access in the region’s poor countries remains limited and predominantly low speed.

The report, released at the ITU Telecom Asia 2008 conference which kicked off today in Bangkok, also points out that the region is the world’s largest broadband market with a 39 per cent share of the world’s total at the end of 2007.

In terms of access, it notes that the region has made remarkable progress in the past few years, with 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.

The Republic of Korea leads the world in terms of the percentage of households with fixed broadband access. Along with Hong Kong and Japan, it also leads the world in terms of the proportion of households with fiber optic connections, which are essential for supporting the next generation of ultra high speed Internet applications.

Meanwhile, in most of the region’s low- and lower middle-income economies, high speed Internet access “is limited to urban areas at best, typically expensive, and often not available at all,” says the ITU.

“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,” it adds.

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.

The report also notes that Asia and the Pacific is home to almost half the world’s fixed telephone subscribers; has 42 per cent of the world’s Internet users; and has the largest mobile phone market share, with 1.4 billion mobile cellular subscribers. By mid-2008, China and India alone had over 600 and 280 million mobile cellular subscribers, respectively, representing close to a quarter of the world’s total.

In addition, text messaging is the predominant non-voice, mobile application in the region. Filipinos send a “staggering” 650 text messages per subscriber per month, the highest in the world.

Among other things, the report recommends that governments develop policies and incentives to narrow the broadband gap.

The theme of Telecom Asia 2008 is “New Generation, New Values” which pays tribute to the region’s reputation as a global leader for innovation and a burgeoning population of ICT users.

The opening sessions of the conference looked at the “Broadband Generation” of “New Users, New Needs and New Solutions,” “New Business Models” and “New User Interfaces.” The gathering will also address green solutions and approaches to the environment as well as promote the strengthening of emergency communications to save lives in the event of natural disasters.

Speaking at the opening ceremony, ITU Secretary-General Hamadoun Touré noted that Telecom Asia showcases the trends and technologies that define future global markets.

“Asia is at the cutting edge, both in terms of pioneering technologies and the way the region interacts with these technologies to define new digital lifestyles,” Mr. Touré said.

“Yet, while some nations lead the world in defining, developing and deploying ICTs, others still strive to make basic products and services affordable and accessible to their populations. Despite the region’s wealth of technological skill and evident enthusiasm for the many benefits ICTs can offer, the digital divide remains a significant blight on Asia’s economic landscape,” he added.

 

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