Developments over the past few years bode well for bringing the countries of Asia into the new era of voice and data communications. Great strides are being made in driving the deployment of high-capacity (or "broadband"), long-haul backbone networks. These networks enable delivery of the new, robust applications being developed globally to drive communications and commerce, which are requiring greater speed and capacity than are available over current-generation networks.
There is no doubt that the global nature of this evolution in communications is affecting Asia. Demand for broadband capacity in the region is booming. According to a report by the Yankee Group and Technowledge Asia, by 2003 broadband subscriptions in Asia will increase more than 23-fold over the current base of approximately 483,000 users - to a total of 11.2 million users. The regions leaders understand that modern voice and data communications is an important vehicle for broader economic progress. Having mostly recovered from the 1997 economic crisis and fearing a stall in economic growth, many of the regions leaders have pushed telecommunications development to the top of their agendas as part of a strategy to ensure that they are part of the information age. Despite the deployment of many new backbone networks, another hurdle remains to bringing the full benefits of the broadband Internet to a critical mass of the regions population: a lack of sufficient bandwidth in the local loop to connect users to these networks. The next step is for carriers and network operators in Asia to look into developing infrastructure for the critical so-called "last mile" to deliver these benefits to the end user. Full consideration of all the different options available for bringing broadband to the local loop is especially important in Asia, where market factors differ from other regions currently deploying broadband. Furthermore, highly differ-entiated national markets mean there is no single technology that is appropriate for bringing access to the end user across all countries. Legacy systems, as well as varying demand, rates of infrastructure development, existing penetration, regulatory environments and rates of economic growth all make it necessary to consider options on a market-by-market basis. Fortunately, carriers and network operators have a variety of alternatives when considering what technologies to deploy. Below we illustrate different access options as they are appropriate in different markets. Landline Access Landline, or terrestrial, networks include wire, fibre and microwave circuits. Although optical fibre is the preferred high-speed, high-capacity access medium in the United States, the cost of bringing fibre into the home makes it a less than ideal option for the countries of Asia (although Japan is currently doing this). In countries where strong levels of basic telephone or cable penetration have already been achieved, landline alternatives exist which can leverage the existing infrastructure, such as India, China or Korea. Digital Subscriber Line Digital subscriber line (DSL) enables telephone companies to use existing twisted pair copper wires to deliver broadband services over ordinary phone lines. Essentially, DSL provides the means to deliver next-generation broadband services over existing carrier networks enabling a quick time-to-market advantage without additional infrastruc-ture, costly outside plant additions and reinvestment. DSL is likely the most promising access technology for the majority of these markets due to cost and is likely to take off in those parts of the region where telephone lines outstrip cable hookups. South Korea is a champion of DSL technology and currently the second largest world market in terms of asymmetric DSL (ADSL) outside the United States. Rollout of ADSL continues with millions of lines contracted for installation throughout the country over the next couple of years. Other areas where DSL has a strong position are Hong Kong and Singapore, countries in which significant DSL penetration already exists. It is forecast that major cities in China will experience strong DSL growth in the near future as well, since twisted copper pair wires account for 93% of Chinas access lines. With the recent development of a DSL variant that does not cause technical interference with the Japanese version of integrated services digital network (ISDN), DSL deployment in Japan is now expected to occur on a large scale. The drawback to this technology option is that end users must be located within a mile of the central switching office to get DSL deployed, making it unrealistic that remote areas not currently served by landline infrastructure will gain access. Cable Modem Access Cable networks provide another popular alternative for broadband access in Asia. A "cable modem" is a device that allows high-speed data access (such as to the Internet) via a cable TV network. Like telecommunications carriers, cable operators have expansive existing networks. The advantage of cable, however, is that cable operators have already been installing much higher bandwidth coaxial cable connections since the inception of their networks. Countries such as Singapore and Hong Kong are ahead in this area, with cable modem-ready infrastructure already in place, making the transition to broadband service provision relatively quick and easy. This creates a potentially faster rate of broadband subscription from the start for these two economies. Cable modem access in countries with fewer cable-ready modems is still an attractive alternative for providing broadband - especially for China, which will reach a cable TV penetration of 100 million households by the end of the year. Furthermore, major cities like Guangzhou, Beijing and Shanghai already have cable penetration between 80% and 90%. Wireless Access Broadband wireless access is another technology providing a cost-effective, reliable and rapidly deployable high-capacity last mile solution. DSL and cable, as last mile solutions, are attractive mainly when the necessary landline infrastructure is already in place. Given the extremely low levels of basic access in many Asian countries due to a lack of landline infrastructure, broadband wireless is an option that allows countries to "leapfrog" traditional infrastructure problems. In fact, countries such as China and India are already in a position to adopt advanced broadband wireless access solutions, completely bypassing the need to lay down traditional infrastructure, thus achieving full coverage in both major metropolitan and remote areas in both basic voice and broadband service. Wireless operators can provision service quicker and exploit the superior cost-efficiency of point-to-multipoint operation. Satellite Access One example of a wireless access technology is point-to-multipoint radio communication via satellites. Satellite platforms for broadband access are often considered to provide the best low-cost broadband network access in locations not served by DSL or cable modems. This option is especially attractive in those countries with insufficient fixed line infrastructure, such as Indonesia and Philippines. These two nations rely heavily on satellite infrastructure because, as archipelagos, they have no land on which to build a landline infrastructure. Residential broadband satellite service has been tremendously popular in the region, and Asia is the second largest market for broadband satellite service behind North America. The use of satellite for broadband access will continue in Asia, especially in remote areas. However, one factor that has dampened the enthusiasm for satellite technology is the 1997 economic crisis, which spurred a general shift in the region toward technology ventures requiring lower capital investment and, thus, terrestrial wireless networks. Local Multipoint - Distribution System One of the most powerful terrestrial solutions for providing extensive and affordable broadband local access is local multipoint distribution system (LMDS) technology. LMDS is a wireless, cell-based technology capable of handling broadband applications. LMDS offers an alternative to the traditional fixed line cables by providing comparable quality and reliability to wired networks with the benefit of fewer construction constraints. LMDS has met with success in Korea, but some countries in Asia with rainy season have been hesitant to adopt the technology due to "rain fade". The reach of LMDS equipment is limited by this phenomenon, which is distortion of the signal caused by raindrops scattering and absorbing the millimeter waves. However, test trials conducted in Taiwan have proven that this distortion effect occurs at much lower levels than previously thought, making LMDS a local access technology of higher consideration. Conclusion This much is simple: This is an important time in the development of the region in terms of its communications and information capabilities. Aggressive, market-based promotion of broadband access technologies is crucial for the economies of Asia if they are to keep up in the fast-moving broadband age. What is not so simple is deciding what types of networks should be deployed to achieve this. The types of broadband access that will ultimately prove the best fit and meet the needs of the region are not limited to the examples mentioned above. As the Asian markets continue to be deregulated, making more of the products available to Asian countries, and as the rate of economic growth continues to rise, the options will surely continue to grow, as well. Partly because the regions decision-makers are still in the process of deciding the future of their networks, tremendous business opportunities exist for service providers and equipment manufacturers who can successfully partner to gauge, and then meet, the demands of their target markets. Now is the time to take advantage of these opportunities by learning about the unique set of market factors in each of the Asian countries, as well as the companies and products that can bring the region into the broadband age.