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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, December 10, 2002

Telecom growth soars in Asia

By Elaine Kurtenbach
Associated Press

A China Mobile booth at the ITU Telecom Asia 2002 Conference in Hong Kong featured a camera in a giant mobile phone display that snapped instant photos of visitors.

Bloomberg News Service

HONG KONG — With telecommunications operators in the United States and elsewhere enduring colossal bankruptcies and widespread weakness, a U.N. agency reported recently that seven of the world's 10 most profitable telecom companies are in Asia.

Regional regulators took the opportunity at a biennial industry show in Hong Kong to exult over double-digit growth and rapid adoption of new technology, such as next-generation cell phones and broadband communications.

"Asia has shown the way out of recession is to invest in next-generation networks and to continue to innovate. Now the region is reaping the rewards," said Yoshio Utsumi, secretary-general of the International Telecommunications Union, the agency sponsoring the show.

The ITU report found that Asia, the biggest telecom market, leads the world in mobile phone use and installation of broadband services. Asian governments have been more actively involved in promoting new technology than those in the West, it said.

Teens in Japan have snapped up Internet-capable, camera-equipped mobile phones. In mainland China, millions of consumers have gone straight from no-phone to cell-phone. And in Taiwan, there are more mobile phones than phone owners.

As a result, the region's average rate of phone subscription growth has been consistently more than 10 percent, about twice that for the rest of the world.

"The development journey that took other nations hundreds of years took us 10 years," China's top regulator, Minister of Information Industry Wu Jichuan, said.

Still, Asian telecoms face their own woes. In Hong Kong, where the broadband penetration rate of 12.1 percent is second only to South Korea's 19 percent, users complain of technical glitches and installation difficulties.

And Chinese regulators may have avoided the bursting of the Internet investment bubble by carefully controlling access to capital markets, but stock market listings by mainland operators have not always gone smoothly.

Former government monopoly China Telecom recently had to scale back a plan to list shares in Hong Kong and New York after its initial public offering failed to lure enough subscriptions.