Asia-Pacific countries that fail to liberalise their telecommunications environments will be left behind by the communications revolution, according to Lee Jong-Soon, executive director of regional telecoms body Asia-Pacific Telecommunity (APT).
Lee, giving the opening address at the CommunicAsia 98 conference this week, said that the "enormous tasks" facing the Asia-Pacific region could only be achieved by encouraging private business to work with governments on building telecommunications networks.
"Deregulation and liberalisation is a worldwide trend that cannot be stopped," he said. "Any country that does not go along with this will become isolated from the technologies, the services, and the standards."
Rapid growth in the region's telecommunications infrastructure requires enormous investment over the next few years, Lee said. In particular, the plan to increase overall telephone density in Asia-Pacific from its current 6 lines per hundred population to 9.4 lines per hundred by 2000 would require an estimated $US192 billion to achieve, he said.
Already, many of the lower income countries in the Asia-Pacific region are posting extremely rapid growth in telecommunications, despite largely rural populations, often rugged and inhospitable terrain, and lack of resources for telecoms expansion, operation and maintenance, Lee said.
APT figures show that the telephone density in China has risen ten-fold in the last four years to a level of 7.3 lines per hundred population, and that 95 per cent of China's telecommunications transmission is now carried out digitally. APT, a regional telecommunications body consisting of representatives from governments, telcos and equipment manufacturers, also noted high growth in the Philippine and Indian telecoms markets.
But many other Asia-Pacific countries still have extremely low levels of telephone density, and their governments need to overcome their reluctance to foreign investment and ownership if their telecommunications networks are to improve, Lee said.
"A conducive regulatory environment is extremely important because it is a warm invitation to the investor," he said. "The Asia-Pacific region provides the biggest opportunity and there is a need to convert it into the biggest market."