The number of 2.5G mobile-data customers in Hong Kong is just over 100,000, a penetration rate of less than 2 per cent, according to data released in October by the Office of the Telecommunications Authority. In comparison, the mobile-data subscriber penetration in Japan is 77 per cent. The new year warrants a look into how the Hong Kong government, content and application providers and mobile network operators can work together to make it the year of mobile data. There is one big difference in the way mobile services are marketed in Hong Kong and Japan. Japanese network operators focus on the services they provide - such as video on the move, or song downloads - rather than on the technologies they use. In Hong Kong, mobile network operators tend to focus on marketing technological advancements such as third-generation (3G) or general packet radio service (GPRS) systems, although this is gradually changing. Clients buying new services are concerned about their cost in the long run. How individual operators set their prices is their right, but we recommend all mobile-data services use a simple and uniform pricing structure the public can understand. Many customers say they will not use mobile-data services because they are expensive. Actually, five megabytes of storage capacity, for HK$250, is sufficient if you do not download too many songs and pictures. Consider the way broadband penetration took off in Hong Kong after service providers dropped per-use charging schemes. Collaborations and revenue splits between mobile-content providers and network operators in Hong Kong are conducted case by case, resulting in a highly inefficient process. One content provider complained it had wasted two months negotiating a non-disclosure agreement. The business deal fell through. Mobile data content is a business sensitive to roll-out timing. It would take too long if every business deal took two months to negotiate. By contrast, Japan has an industry-wide de facto standard, resulting in lots of mobile content being offered to the public. Development and connection platforms among Hong Kong's mobile-network operators differ, forcing content providers to modify their connectivity modules for each platform. We recommend Hong Kong mobile-network operators develop a standardised connectivity platform, thereby lowering the entry barrier for local content providers. One barrier to the adoption of mobile and wireless applications is simply a lack of public understanding. A massive education campaign is needed among businesses and the public on the use of mobile and wireless technology. In much the same way as good public education has taught older people to use e-mail to communicate with their children or grandchildren overseas, we would like to see older people like our mums and dads sending SMSs and using mobile data. The conditions are right for an explosion in the mobile-data market in the new year. Handsets have better features, there is strong interest from developers and content providers, and mobile-data reliability and speeds have seen considerable improvements. More than 360 teams registered for a recent Java 2 Platform Micro Edition (J2ME) competition, proving that a large community of content and application developers exists in Hong Kong, ready for an imminent explosion of the mobile data market. Are we ready to grasp the opportunity? Will 2003 be the year of mobile data in Hong Kong? Yes, but we need to work hard on it. Lawrence Cheung Chi-chong is an executive committee member of the Hong Kong Wireless Technology Industry Association.