Asia's youth and frequent travellers are set to lead in the adoption of next-generation mobile data services in the region, telecommunications industry experts said. Hong Kong, Singapore and South Korea are projected to head the Asia-Pacific, excluding Japan, in terms of mass consumer adoption of future wireless Internet services, according to a survey by research firm International Data Corp (IDC). The survey of about 4,000 urban Internet users in six Asian markets - Australia, Hong Kong, China, Korea, Singapore and Taiwan - found the early adopters of 2.5-generation and future 3G cellular communications systems, which allow for high-speed mobile links to the Internet, represented about 5 per cent of Asian mobile-phone users today. These users were young, averaging about 28 years old, mostly male - accounting for 64 per cent of the respondents - and more likely to travel than the average mobile-phone user, the survey showed. IDC expected this market segment to broaden next year. 'The results of this IDC survey basically show this same market segmentation we have seen in Hong Kong,' said Agnes Nardi, managing director at Hutchison Telecom. 'We also expect the adoption of wireless Web services to pick up next year when GPRS [general packet radio services] become more mainstream and applications for 3G systems are developed.' Hutchison Telecom is Hong Kong's largest cellular network operator, with 1.7 million subscribers among the SAR's 5.6 million mobile-phone users. As with the five other GSM (global system for mobile) cellular operators, Hutchison Telecom has a fledgling GPRS subscriber base. The company plans to launch its 3G system this year. Davina Yeo, mobile e-business manager at IDC Asia-Pacific, said: 'The mobile Internet is closely tied with consumers' lifestyle. Industry players should identify hot market segments delineated by demographics and lifestyles, and target them aggressively with personalised solutions.' She said it was important for operators to know that the region's youth and frequent travellers had demonstrated a strong interest not only in adopting but paying for wireless applications. Consumer interest was high when the wireless data services were offered free, but dropped significantly when a fixed flat fee was charged, the survey found. Interest was also generally lower when consumers had not seen or used the services before. Moreover, consumers have grown accustomed to the idea of 'free Internet' subsidised by advertisements. Ms Yeo said cultivating in consumers a culture of paying for downloading content on to mobile handsets might be a challenge for some segments. 'The adoption of the wireless Internet will probably take a varied pattern due to the vastly different interest levels among countries and demographic segments,' she said. The survey found that young people were particularly keen on applications such as downloading music and e-mail. 'For road warriors, communication is the essential element. As such, e-mail scored the highest among the services surveyed for this segment, as did the ability to access stock quotes, weather and news,' Ms Yeo said. Overall, the survey indicated that interest in next-generation wireless applications spanned a broad spectrum, suggesting wireless network operators should not attempt to target all market segments with uniform applications. 'As the mobile handset is first and foremost a voice-centric device, a user's first instinct is to extend the concept of communications to include new services such as instant messaging and e-mail,' Ms Yeo said. Consumer reaction towards wireless advertising was mixed, the survey revealed. Intrusion on privacy was a huge concern in Australia, but in markets such as Hong Kong and Singapore, where shopping is part of the citizens' lives, more than 40 per cent of the respondents indicated a strong interest in wireless advertising. Ms Nardi said this was valid, based on Hutchison Telecom's experience with its subscribers, who accepted wireless advertising in the form of regularly downloaded discount coupons for consumer merchandise. According to IDC, the wide use of short messaging services (SMS) across Asia has become a valuable bridge to 2.5G and future 3G services for all industry players. 'In every market covered, over 97 per cent of survey respondents use SMS,' Ms Yeo said. She said offering SMS versions of wireless applications and moving users on to 2.5G or 3G platforms in time could help generate interest in future mobile data services. The GSM Association, a global organisation for GSM network operators and equipment vendors, projected the number of SMS messages sent last year would be between 200 billion and 250 billion worldwide. It said the increased use of text messaging worldwide had broadened the range of SMS applications, with the bulk of traffic consisting of person-to-person text messages.