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Asia: Fostering Mobile Innovation
Source: totaltele.com
Source Date: Tuesday, November 16, 2010
Focus: Internet Governance
Created: Nov 23, 2010

As Total Telecom prepares to head to Hong Kong for Mobile Asia Congress 2010, we take a look at some of the key markets in the Asia-Pacific region. The Asia-Pacific region is home to almost half the world's mobile subscribers and includes some of its fastest-growing and highly-penetrated markets.

According to Wireless Intelligence, 48% of the globe's 5 billion-plus mobile subscribers were located in Asia-Pacific as of mid-2010. A large proportion of those subscribers are in the mega-markets of China and India, which claimed 813.38 million and 692.83 million respectively.

While India tops the research firm's year-on-year growth rate table at a sizeable 47%, China's 17% growth rate (which remains high in comparison to other markets; highly developed Japan recorded 5% growth over the same period, for example) leaves it languishing at number 10. Cambodia, Indonesia and Sri Lanka all saw growth of 30% or more.

At the other end of the scale – and Asia-Pac covers the whole gamut – sit the advanced markets in which penetration is creeping up towards 100%. Singapore tops the chart with 192% penetration, closely followed by Macau at 190%. And next on the list, with penetration of 143% and a well-advanced mobile market, comes Hong Kong, where the global mobile communications industry is set to convene on Wednesday at Mobile Asia Congress 2010.

The conference comes at a pivotal time for many Asian telecoms markets.

Some are looking towards LTE, and indeed we are expecting much discussion on LTE rollout at MAC, although there have yet to be any LTE launches in Asia.

Hong Kong's CSL earlier this year said it was ready to roll out services and would inaugurate its network before the end of the year. We're expecting the telco to have more to add to its rollout plans at MAC.

However, Japan could take the crown as the first country in Asia to have a commercial LTE network. Last week Japan's NTT DoCoMo confirmed that it will launch its first LTE services on 24 December. The service, to be known as Xi, will be available initially via USB dongle, but the telco plans to start introducing LTE handsets from April 2011.

Meanwhile in South Korea, WIBRO Infra – a partnership between KT, Intel and Samsung – recently committed to covering the whole of the country with Wibro technology by March next year. Wibro is a South Korea-specific mobile WiMAX variant developed by Samsung. The companies insist that Wibro will be complementary to LTE, rather than a competitor.

But while those markets look towards advanced 3G technologies – and let's hope we don't hear too many people refer to LTE as "4G" at MAC – Thailand has yet to make the leap to the third generation.

The country planned to auction 2.1-GHz spectrum earlier this year, after many years of delays, but was once again thwarted at the eleventh hour when state-owned players CAT and TOT successfully had the process stopped by court injunction, arguing that the National Telecommunications Commission did not have the authority to conduct the sale. The latest development saw the Thai lower house last week approve a draft bill that should pave the way for the creation of a new regulator – the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission – and ultimately the 3G auction.

Thailand has mobile penetration of 108%, according to Wireless Intelligence, the 10th largest in Asia.

It also took India a while to allocate its 3G frequencies, but following an auction that ended in May and raised more than $14 billion, the country's private mobile operators are now gearing up for launch.

Tata Teleservices became the first non-state-owned player to launch 3G services in India – under the Tata DoCoMo banner – earlier this month, Vodafone Essar's first 3G services will come to market in the first quarter of next year, and Bharti Airtel has awarded 3G network rollout deals to Ericsson, Nokia Siemens Networks and Huawei.

Doubtless there will be much discussion about the Indian mobile market – its intense competition, declining ARPUs and rapid customer growth – at MAC. Keep an eye on the Total Telecom Website on Wednesday and Thursday for more on that, and the rest of the news, views and analysis from Hong Kong.
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