Holding this year's event in Hong Kong signifies a global shift in commercial interest from North America and Western Europe to the mainland THE HOSTING OF ITU Telecom World 2006 at AsiaWorld-Expo in Hong Kong from today to Friday may at last dispel the perception among a few sceptics that Hong Kong is not truly a world city. Telecommunications is both a key enabler of economic activity and a barometer of its achievements, and the choice of the SAR - a regional telecoms hub and the gateway to China - as a venue, is recognition of the city's leading position in the region. The influential Telecom World Forum and Exhibition dates back to 1971 and has always been held in Geneva, Switzerland. 'We moved it this year because many telecommunications companies have a commercial interest in China and want to explore this market further', said Fernando Lagrana, executive manager, ITU Telecom World 2006. 'So this year's event may be characterised by connections between China and the rest of the world.' The venue was a strategic choice by the ITU. Robert Shaw, deputy head, ITU strategy and policy unit, said: 'One of the objectives is to demonstrate that the global telecommunications epicentre has been shifting from North America and Western Europe to the Asia-Pacific region. 'The Asia-Pacific region now has the largest share of internet and mobile users, and [is a leader] in advanced internet technology, such as broadband access and mobile data.' Mr Shaw said the market potential was enormous. 'The Asia-Pacific region has more than 40 per cent of the world's total broadband users. Japan and [South] Korea lead the world in mobile broadband subscribers, while Hong Kong is a leader in technologies such as IPTV [internet protocol television].' 'These accomplishments, combined with a much larger potential for growth, are all reasons for people to come to Telecom World and see the future through an Asian perspective.' China is the leader in Asia in telecom development. It added 58.6 million new mobile subscribers last year, bringing the total to more than 400 million in the first quarter of this year - more than any other country. China is also the world leader in making mobile phones. Last year it produced 330million, of which 228million were exported. This year, output is expected to hit 400million, 40 per cent of the world's total. Outside China, Japan and Korea are leaders in mobile and mobile broadband technologies. Of the two main third-generation (3G) mobile phone systems, the IMT-2000 (3G) system was first commercially launched in South Korea using CDMA2000 1x, and the other standard, W-CDMA, was first launched in Japan. In fixed-line telecom space, Japan is on a fast track to fibre deployment. 'I estimate that in mid-2008 the total number of fibre broadband subscribers will surpass the number of DSL subscribers,' Mr Shaw said. 'Japan already has the most 'bits for the buck' with the cheapest broadband services in the world.' India is now playing catch-up and is talking in terms of half a billion people having mobile phones in barely five years. Asia is also playing a larger part in developing new telecom technologies. 'China, Japan and Korea have formed a regional Beyond-3G (B3G) standards group to look at how they can combine efforts and bring these proposals into the ITU's global standards efforts,' he said. Government regulation will not be a major part of the ITU Forum, but it will be discussed. 'How can we ensure that the digital world is open to all? How can we guarantee that the digital world remains people-centred and embraces our shared human values?' Mr Shaw said. 'Concerns over privacy and data protection are important issues where regulation may be needed, and other examples are the role of regulation in relation to content convergence and distribution.' The rapid pace of telecom progress is reflected in the scope of the organisation. Mr Lagrana said: 'We are changing the ITU's mission as it is expressed in our fundamental texts by replacing the word 'telecommunication' with 'telecommunication and IT', and some people have suggested that we are expanding beyond the original telecommunications field. 'Our perception in the ITU Secretariat is that in the debate about the scope of ITU's work, the fields of telecom, ICT and broadcasting represent three different views of the same industry segments, and this is a cultural rather than a technology issue. IT will be the basis for the next generation of networks, but it does not represent something different.' Some people have been wary of the increasing scope of the ITU. 'We have been accused of wanting to rule the internet, but that is not so,' Mr Lagrana said. 'What we do want is for the internet to be ubiquitous, so all countries and all regions have equal access to it. We also want the rules, regulations and standards to be fair so as to provide content [that is] accessible to most of the world's population.' ITU Telecom World 2006 will benefit from the economic upturn. 'Telecom World in Hong Kong is the first event of this magnitude since the economic downturn of 2000,' Mr Lagrana said. 'At the previous Telecom World, the industry was not in good shape, but now there are signs that we have fully recovered from the impact of the year 2000 crash. Mr Shaw said: 'The main theme of ITU Telecom World is how today's digital world is transforming individual lifestyles the world over.' 'The computing industry has long been all-digital; the telecommunications industry is almost fully digital and the broadcasting sector is well on its way to becoming digital.' 'Always-on internet access has become the norm, with people spending more and more time consuming digital media than any other medium,' Mr Shaw said. 'Daily lives from China to Croatia are brimming with SMS, e-mail, chats, online dating, multiplayer gaming, virtual worlds and digital multimedia.' Another aspect of the Telecom World forum will be the discussion of consumer lifestyles and how people use IT and communications tools at home. Mr Lagrana said: 'What was inconceivable until recently was how the consumer usage of communications at home has impacted professional life. 'In a typical office, businesspeople may have to do online purchasing, prepare travel itineraries, and try to create a collaborative community in the office. 'Many of the things that we or our children do at home on the internet will lead the way we work and do business. Even complete communication technologies, such as instant messaging, can migrate from the home to the office.'