Asia: The world's infocom innovation lab

John Tull
04 Dec 2006

Asia's combination of economic growth and quick adoption of technological advances has captured the world's imagination. While markets within Asia vary widely in rates of development, a recent phenomenon is Asia as an infocom innovation laboratory, one with the potential to change the global telecoms landscape in a 'flattened' world of multiple competitors.

Innovation, a key driving force in economic development, has been the lifeblood of the 'developed' technology sector and is crucial for its future growth.

Asia is fast catching up, with increasing stakes placed on developing home-grown innovation capacity. Four Asian countries had the highest growth in international patents globally between 2003 and 2005: China 89%, Korea 61%, Singapore 55% and Japan 45%.

How can Asia play in the telecom innovation game‾ I make three propositions on trends in Asia that the rest of the world can no longer ignore.

Proposition 1: Rapid urbanization of Asia's youth will profoundly impact the future of telecommunications. Asia has immense innovation capacity today, driven by demographics and increasingly supported by public and private sector initiatives.

Today, there are over one billion people under the age of 15 in Asia, accounting for some 60% of the world's youth. In addition to sheer brainpower, they are increasingly growing up in an urbanized world offering access to dazzling new technology applications. This growth in the youth segment is occurring primarily in high-growth markets (China, India, Indonesia); today's great successes (Korea, Japan) became technologically advanced when their societies were younger.

The new wave in Asia is taking their lead from Japan and Korea. The scale of change is unprecedented: over 200 million Chinese will be urbanized in the next ten years. That's equivalent to a city like Vienna or Phoenix created every month for the next ten years. Affordable and scalable 'broadband for all' is the great leveler and enabler to tap this innovation capacity.

Proposition 2: Asia's most innovative markets today are global telecom leaders. For a young Japanese or Korean, to lose their mobile phone means they may have lost their Web browser, game console, electronic wallet, house keys, video camera, still camera, MP3 player and organizer - all in one. These are truly ubiquitous services where information, services and devices are available 'anytime, anywhere, by anything and anyone'.

One example is the world's first fully mobile broadcasting service that reached 680,000 subscribers with its 12 video channels within barely a year of launch. Another is the Cyworld Mobile Community Portal, with 1.5 million subscribers in Korea, now launching in the US and parts of Asia. These services deliver what we call 'user-centric experience'. The immense bandwidth required will soak up the five year glut in operator bandwidths, demanding an accelerated program of network and business model transformation to remain relevant and competitive.

Asian governments are supporting this strategically, with ultra-high speed and completely pervasive wired and wireless infrastructure initiatives, such as U-Japan, Korea's IT839 and iN2015 in Singapore. These create an ICT environment to enable accelerated development and global rollout of innovative user-centric experiences, the value-capturing part of the next telecom wave. With the demands and requirements brought on by these new applications and services, operators are transforming their networks with architectures like IMS/Acuity.

Asia's leading mobile operators are likewise upgrading to 3.5G HSDPA and soon to 4G.

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