As one of the promising regions in the world, Asia is still faced with challenges to bridge its digital divide. One of the challenges, according to Alcatel-Lucent, runs to the tune of US$1 trillion for building up the IT infrastructure by the end of the decade.
Home to billions in population, Asia is currently a favoured region for being resilient enough to weather the global economic turmoil in Europe and North America. It is home to billions of mobile subscribers who have recently migrated to urban areas that have become mega-cities. This growing population and urban migration trend are prompting countries in the region to build their respective national broadband networks, just one of several IT infrastructure that the region needs.
A top executive of Alcatel-Lucent Asia Pacific spoke recently at the World Economic Forum East Asia to paint a picture of the IT infrastructure situation and requirements of the region.
Rajeev Singh-Molares, president, Asia-Pacific region, Alcatel-Lucent, and chairman of the World Economic Forum's Global Agenda Council on Information Communications Technology, said governments and businesses will need to add another 1.3 billion mobile subscribers in Asia where more than 25 percent of people live without basic mobile services. In the process of bridging the gap between the current mobile subscribers and those who will need mobile services in the future, Singh-Morales said Asia's networks need to support this growing traffic requirements, including increasing population density in urban centres.
"Initiatives that combine socially relevant applications, network infrastructure, and affordable business models will provide 36 percent more GDP growth than a network only approach. To bridge the infrastructure gaps in Asia, smarter planning and cross sector collaboration are needed," said Singh-Molares, adding that "building a strong digital infrastructure is an imperative for nations that want to compete in the digital economy."
Singh-Molares cited different stages in the progress of building the national broadband networks in countries in the region. While Singapore and Malaysia are already providing world-class telecom services, a huge infrastructure gap exists between them and nations like Cambodia, Myanmar, and Vietnam. In Myanmar, for example, only 1.3 percent of the population currently subscribes to mobile voice services, compared to the neighbouring nations Laos (80 percent), Thailand (111 percent), and Malaysia (127 percent).
Singh-Molares cited the case of Thailand which is trying to bridge the digital gap through its US$2.6 billion "Smart Thailand" strategy. The strategy includes a plan to convert all 800 or so government services onto digital platforms, make its cities and provinces smarter, and put tablets in the hands of all its students. The network build is ambitious, said Singh-Molares. The aim is to increase the number of Thais connected to a network from 33 percent today to 95 percent by 2020.
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