If the availability gap can be bridged, the wireless Internet will be a major social and economic force in the Asia-Pacific region. To bridge the gap, current systems need to be upgraded to 2.5 G and then to true third generation (3G) Compatible handsets and useful native language applications will have to reach the market simultaneously. All this plus realistic, affordable, spectrum allocation will provide the region with economic and social vitality into the twenty-first century.
The Wireless Internet: Key to Regional Economic and Social Vitality Unquestionably, the Internet will be a major driving force in shaping and accelerating economic and social vitality in the region. And unquestionably, the most cost-efficient and practical way to link and bring the Internet to the geographically and demographically diverse people of the region is through wireless technology. Wireless technology will be the main conduit to feed our insatiable cravings for communications and information. It will link people's dreams with technology's promise. Based on what we read and hear, it seems that people have become a bit disillusioned with the Internet and the Wireless Internet. Here are two examples: o First, there's the collapse of the not-for-profit dot.com industry. Many investors lost fortunes chasing profits that just weren't there. They blamed 'internet technology' rather than greed; o The second is the hype surrounding the Wireless Internet. Consumers expected Wireless Application Protocol, or WAP, to quickly deliver the world of the Internet via cell phone. Unfortunately, 2G GSM networks cannot deliver the expected speed and ease of use. GSM WAP phones didn't make it in Europe and Asia. The only bright spot was I-mode, pioneered in Japan by NTT DoCoMo. It showed a glimpse of the wireless data world that is yet to come. Apart from the bust of dot.com shares, the Internet did create a new economy in the United States in terms of efficiency. I believe that wireless devices and services will have an even greater impact in the next five years than the Internet has had in the past five years. This time, the Asia-Pacific, including Japan, will reap the benefit of the new wireless Internet economy. The Key Question in Bridging the Internet Availability Gap The key question associated with bridging the Internet availability gap is how can we economically and effectively spread the reach of the Internet throughout the region? While there are many answers to the question, I want to highlight three important ones: 1) Upgrading voice-only 2G networks to the voice and 'always-on' higher-speed data capabilities of 2.5G. This practical and affordable upgrade will provide subscribers with fast, easy and 'always-on' Internet access. Asian telecommunications companies can recoup their investment while developing a much larger wireless data customer base. The 2.5G upgrade will also make the transition into the 3G world of voice, data and multi-media less painful several years down the road. 2) Ready availability of both 2.5G data-enabled handsets and the right content and service applications in national languages. 3) And, specific to the development of 3G in the region, affordable spectrum. Answer #1: Upgrading 2.G systems to 2.5G as the Expedient and Economical Answer to Wireless Internet Access The wireless world, through the cellular phone, has developed a strong base in the Asia-Pacific region with huge growth momentum. In Year 2000, there were over 200 million cellular subscribers in the region. In three years, that number is forecast to grow to approximately 400 million, which will be about 40 per cent of the projected worldwide total of one billion. With all of that existing cellular capacity, the most expedient and economical answer to bringing wireless to the Internet in this region is by upgrading existing voice-only 2G cellular networks to 2.5G. This will enable us to communicate, transact and get information faster, easier and better with high speed always-on wireless Internet access. It's an expedient solution because it's easy to upgrade existing 2G GSM and Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA) networks in Asia. It's an economical solution because of the relatively small investment that's required. As 2G GSM networks already serve over 60 per cent of the cellular subscribers in the region, the GSM upgrade technology, General Radio Packet Service (GPRS) will be the dominant 2.5G technology for Asia-Pacific. 2G CDMA technology is also significant in the region, particularly in Korea and parts of Japan. The 2.5G upgrade technology for CDMA is called 1XRTT. Originally, 2.5G was seen as a stopgap, interim solution for mobile data services as we quickly migrated to the 3G world. However, based on operator commit-ments and today's current trends, 2.5G is becoming a significant standard in the region. According to Gartner Dataquest, 34 of the top 40 operators in the region are planning to implement 2.5G upgrades by the end of 2002. Twenty-five operators are planning commercial rollouts of GPRS that are scheduled to be completed by the end of next year. Nine operators are planning to introduce CDMA networks using 1XRTT technology between now and the end of 2002. Migration to the 3G World In the evolution of wireless services in the region, 2.5G enables us to economically leapfrog into high speed data services now during our migration into the voice, data and video world of 3G. Because of the huge investment requirements in infrastructure, handsets and perhaps, spectrum, widespread use of 3G in the region may take more years than anticipated. The exception is Japan which is renowned as the world leader in the development and commercialisation of 3G networks. NTT DoCoMo's 3G network is scheduled for introduction in October of 2001. Wide band CDMA is the 3G technology of choice in Japan and is being accepted throughout the region. While China is looking at establishing their own homegrown standard, Time Division - Synchronous Code Division Multiple Access (TD-SCDMA), they are considering Wide-band Code Division Multiple Access (WCDMA) as well. If China adopts WCDMA, everyone enjoys regional 3G roaming. To fully unleash the potential of 3G in the region, Japan holds the key to early implementation. China holds the key to standardisation. Answer #2: Simultaneous Availability of Handsets + Applications While we have the 2.5G technologies to access the Wireless Web with fast, easy and 'always-on' delivery, we need data-enabled handsets and the right applications in the right languages to make the wireless Internet work for us. As proven by NTT DoCoMo's I-mode service, availability of both the handsets and the local language applications at the time of launch is a vital requirement for success. We can access the web without wires with WAP-enabled GPRS handsets and devices that are available now. Motorola has developed a complete range of them. Of special significance is the A6288 model with GPRS, the combination cell phone and Personal Digital Assistant (PDA) with Chinese and English handwriting recognition. It will enable Chinese to access the wireless Internet in Chinese characters-without a key-board. This same platform is applicable for other local languages. The A008 model is sold in Europe and features English and European languages. There is an enormous window of opportunity open now for the development of content for mobile commerce services in national languages. Active development is on-going in virtually every country in the region. Answer #3: Affordable Spectrum Costs - A Make or Break Issue for 3G in the Region Although 2.5G provides a practical and economical answer to wireless Internet access to meet current needs, the stage is being set now for the implementation of 3G beyond Japan to the major countries of the region. 3G technology is rapidly developing. Plans for 3G spectrum allocation are in progress. As I noted earlier, the biggest obstacle to the wide acceptance of 3G in the region is the huge investment that is required. There is a way to help ensure a major overall lower cost of 3G networks and accelerate 3G development in this region. It's by making spectrum affordable and not auctioning spectrum at industry destroying premiums as we saw happen in Europe. We have an opportunity to learn from the European 3G spectrum experience. After spending over US$100 billion for spectrum, European carriers will need to spend just as much on new equipment for new networks. The debt that these carriers are carrying is staggering. The costs that subscribers may have to pay for 3G services may also be staggering. I don't know how the situation will shake out in Europe. I do know that we don't want their problems in Asia-Pacific. Fortunately, pragmatic spectrum allocation models seem to be settling into the region. The Japanese government is not charging for 3G spectrum. Hong Kong announced a boldly creative spectrum sharing with a longer-term payment plan. Operators in Australia paid well below the government's asking price. With not enough competition for an auction, Singapore announced a fixed price for their spectrum. The cost of spectrum is a make or break issue for 3G in the region. In the up-coming rounds of spectrum auctions, the telecommunications industry must collaborate and coordinate with government to ensure a win-win-win situation. A win for consumers. A win for national interests. And a win for commercial interests. Conclusion We have a very real pragmatic opportunity now to link peoples' dreams to technology's promise by accelerating the development and reach of the wireless Internet in the region: We can develop the Wireless Internet on 2.5G infrastructure to spread regional reach and close the Internet availability gap. We can ride the 2.5G wave into the world of 3G at the right time and under terms and conditions for consumers, governments and commercial interests. We have 2.5G WAP-enabled handsets available now to access the Wireless Web with ease and speed. New local application development and mobile service industries are now creating the right wireless applications in the right languages at the right time. And through realistic spectrum allocation, government and a financially sound industry can create and nurture a 3G Wireless Internet world that will provide economic and social vitality to the region into the twenty-first century.