Non-events were year's highlights

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 06 December, 1994, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 06 December, 1994, 12:00am

IT IS December already, as hard as that is to believe, and time for an annual stock-take. Time to reflect, to assess the year's major developments, the great strides made in the Hong Kong telecommunications industry.

In Hong Kong, fortunately, this task is made simple by the fact that we live in what must be the most dynamic market for telecommunications services in the world.

In this context, it is impossible not to conclude that 1994 will be remembered more for what did NOT happen than for developments that did take place.

What did not happen was the granting of licences for the provision of fixed line telecommunications network services (FTNS), the bits of paper that would pave the way for the introduction of competition in the local market after June 30 next year.

Another thing that did not happen in 1994 was that the Sino-British Joint Liaison Group (JLG) did not give its overall stamp of approval for the Government's telecommunications regulatory strategies that will take us through to the next century.

These non-developments are rather unfortunate. Because right now we are right smack in the middle of one of the most dramatic periods of change the industry has ever known - both in terms of technology development and regulatory liberalisation - and yet here we are, on hold, as it were.

As a market, Hong Kong is primed to embrace these changes perhaps more readily than any other, and yet we wait. Because until the JLG gives the nod, all else is overshadowed.

OK, so they have been busy - with airports to build among other things - but it is frustrating, nonetheless. It is difficult to get vocally excited about the outstanding opportunities presented by this sea of change until approval is granted.

No-one seems to doubt that approval will eventually be forthcoming, but the waiting is annoying (if not damned inconvenient for those companies waiting to unleash billions of investment dollars into the local industry).

It does seem extraordinary that in a little more than six months, the doors of competition are to be flung open, so little has been said of it in the popular media. The excitement has little to do with the vagaries of deregulation, but rather the tremendous opportunities presented by it.

This is information superhighway stuff. The interactive multimedia networks. By way of its proximity to China - soon to be the world's largest telecoms market - and the state-of-the-art nature of Hong Kong's existing network, the territorry is probably positioned better than any other market to fully realise the extraordinary hype about the information superhighway.

With Hongkong Telecom's existing all-digital network as its base, Hong Kong has the opportunity to become like a gigantic experiment for InfoBahn development.

The territory has both the network infrastructure and the skills base to become a creative centre for developing New Age telecom services (to say nothing of being populated by a mass market of consumers readily accepting new technologies).

The information superhighway will create whole new industries, presenting enormous opportunities for literally thousands of companies. Hong Kong, though it appears not to know it yet, sits right at the forefront of these developments, in both the fixed-line and wireless markets.

The fact that it is to become a part of the vast China market - and the fact that China's central authorities have made the development of telecommunications services recognised national priorities - only makes the opportunities more interesting.

Though the Government appears disinterested in fostering such notions (in contrast, as usual, to Singapore), Hong Kong is supremely placed to become a telecommunications industry knowledge centre, a digital development base for China, and the rest of the region.

In making the most of this opportunity, telecommunications would become one of the territory's biggest industries and one of its biggest export earners.

The information superhighway is about big bucks. And that is precisely what Hong Kong likes best.