Unity theme of Asia's first GSM congress

PUBLISHED : Monday, 04 October, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 04 October, 2004, 12:00am

Given that it encompasses the two most populous nations on the planet, Asia is surely a growth driver for the world's mobile telecommunications industry.

So it is disappointing that Asia's first GSM conference, the 3GSM World Congress, held in Singapore last week, attracted little more than 2,000 participants - less than a 10th of the number (29,000) who took part in the annual event in Cannes, France, seven months ago.

The medium-sized exhibition hall was more than accommodating, but several workshops had more empty chairs than attendees.

China's Huawei Technologies was the main sponsor of the event, while the chief executive of India's top mobile operator, Bharti Enterprises, was among the keynote speakers. These companies were the star players representing the world's two biggest countries.

Nevertheless, the conference had a distinctly Asian flavour. Some 20 chief executives, mostly from Asia, were present to share their operating experiences.

Unity was one theme that stood out. The GSM Association, under the chairmanship of Hong Kong resident Craig Ehrlich, has become a global force in the industry.

Last week, the association sent letters to the group's more than 600 members, asking them to write to the Indian government to object to plans to release portions of the GSM spectrum to Personal Communications Service (PCS) operators. The Indian regulator has proposed granting to PCS carriers spectrum at 1900 megahertz, which overlaps the International Telecom Union's designated frequency for 3G services.

'Should this happen, India will become an island,' Mr Ehrlich said. 'There is no rational case, no business case, and it puts the [Indian] economy at risk.'

Another goal set at the Singapore conference was the establishment of a common standard that would allow multimedia messages (MMS) to be exchanged across networks globally, much like text messages today. The Vodafone Group, Cable & Wireless and Belgacom have taken the first steps, setting up pilot services that allow their respective customers to swap MMS.

GSM Association chief executive Rob Conway said: 'The MMS trial proves the concept of new structures for new data services and demonstrates that the operator community is leading the industry's development for the benefit of all customers.'

Since Mr Conway and Mr Ehrlich took up leadership positions in the GSM Association last year, the group has aimed to become a voice for its 209 member countries, fighting on a united front on issues affecting the mobile industry.

This has helped to attract top vendors such as Nokia, which joined last month, and Motorola and Huawei, which also signed up recently.

Mr Ehrlich said increasing participation from the supplier side signified fundamental changes in the sector, with industry leaders coming together to map out the next-generation services.

'In essence [the association has] all the CEOs sitting on the same board, all focusing on commercial and strategic issues,' he said.

'The GSM Association is a global trade body and, honestly, we could not have done that two years ago. We now tell the vendors to comply with us, and that will make their lives easier.'

Mr Conway added: 'We have key players at the vendor side to ensure we can make this progress very fast. I think we are going through something that is a sea change to this industry.'

Mr Ehrlich said the group would hold a second exhibition in Asia next September, but he refused to be drawn on whether the association would be returning to Singapore. He left open as possibilities Hong Kong, Beijing and Shanghai.

The 3G World Congress will be held in Hong Kong next month.