Specialisation will be key to the growth of electronic commerce in Asia, for both the business-to-consumer and business-to-business markets, according to market research firm Gartner Group. The winners in the consumer market would be businesses that focus on narrow segments such as youth or music fans, Gartner analyst Lane Leskela said. In the much-bigger business market, the successful Internet businesses would be those that built so-called 'vertical' businesses, which used specialised knowledge to make purchasing and distribution systems more efficient. Many business sites would be extensions of existing, membership-based private networks. Moving these to the Internet and opening up access would give Asia's small- and medium-sized companies a cheap way to cut costs, Mr Leskela said. Localisation would be the key in consumer markets in places such as the mainland. 'Some dot-com businesses will go through cycle after cycle of figuring out what to sell. The value proposition is to localise the content as well as the language' rather than to simply rehash what had been offered by on-line merchants in the US and elsewhere, he said. Gartner's Dataquest unit last week said regional business-to-business spending over the Internet would total US$8 billion by the end of this year and reach $280 billion in 2003. The business-to-consumer market would grow from $5 billion this year to $40 billion in 2003, it said. Dataquest said there were about 11 million Internet-connected personal computers within Asian organisations and three million in homes. Although that number was only about 13 per cent of the world total, Dataquest expected the number of Internet-connected PCs in Asia to grow to 90 million by 2003. There were about 10 million unique Internet subscriber accounts in Asia, Dataquest said, more than seven million registered to businesses. Mr Leskela said he expected the number of accounts to rise as Asians decided they wanted access at home as well as at work. Dataquest found Australia was ahead of other Asian countries in terms of plans to get into e-commerce, with almost 60 per cent of all organisations already implementing systems or planning to do so within the next year. In terms of plans to deploy commercial intranets, the mainland ranked first, with more than 75 per cent of organisations saying they had projects under way. In Singapore, Hong Kong, Australia, Korea and New Zealand, more than 60 per cent of organisations said they had plans under way to install such commercial intranets. '[The mainland] is building one of the most sophisticated 16-lane Internet highways the world's ever seen,' Mr Leskela said. 'It's a question of what's going to go on that highway.' Dataquest forecast that Asian spending on e-commerce technology would reach almost $2 billion by the end of this year and would more than triple that to more than $6 billion by 2003.