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4th Asian Telecommunications Industry Exchange Forum
Opening Address by Mr K C Kwong
Secretary for Information Technology & Broadcasting

Mr Ng, ladies and gentlemen,

It is an honour for me today to make the opening address for the 4th Asian Telecommunications Industry Exchange Forum. It is also my great pleasure to address a distinguished audience of over 150 senior professionals and experts in the telecommunications industry of the Asia-Pacific region this morning.

In the past, telecommunications were nothing more than telegram, telex and the plain old telephone. Indeed, during those "good old days", not every home had a telephone. Even until several years ago, owning a mobile telephone was something of a status symbol. However, technological advances today have brought about completely new dimensions to the development of the telecommunications industry, and this has substantially enhanced business operations and efficiency and improved the style and quality of our daily life. There are several factors leading to this phenomenal change.

First of all, the cost of communication has declined substantially - by as much as a factor of 10,000 in the past twenty years. This is mainly due to the advent of the optical fibre, the microprocessor and smart wireless and satellite systems.

Second, the rapid development of digital techniques and the use of the Internet in the last decade has revolutionised communications beyond reliance on voice and has opened up the scope for a vast variety of forms of data communication.

Third, we are now moving towards convergence. By that, I mean convergence of the computing, communication and broadcasting industries. For example, soon we will no longer have separate equipment for our computers, telephone, fax, or television. Instead, just one single "black box" will give us all these things. This converging "Infocom" industry already has a world market with an annual turnover of trillions of US dollars and many financial analysts have forecast that it will become the world's largest industry by the turn of the century.

Ladies and gentlemen, all these developments will indeed shape the manner in which we work and live in future. To respond to these changes, to make Hong Kong a leader in the information world of tomorrow and to keep ourselves in the forefront of the world in the development of telecommunications, the HKSAR Government has established the new Information Technology and Broadcasting Bureau with overall policy responsibility for the co-ordination and development of telecommunications, information technology applications, and broadcasting in the public and private sectors. We are convinced that this institutional change will enhance co-ordination and efficiency in policy formulation and will help promote the development of telecommunications, information technology, as well as broadcasting in Hong Kong.

Looking at the issue from a wider perspective, we in the Asia-Pacific region need to fully equip ourselves for the journey to the information world of tomorrow and there are a number of critical paths that we have to cross. First, we need to construct the information infrastructure on which all other things rely. Technological advances in the last decade and the anticipated developments in the near future should provide us with the capability to fully participate in the construction of a Global Information Infrastructure. It is now a matter of finding the right investment climate and incentives to build the infrastructure. The investment climate and incentives rely not so much in the engineering capabilities of the network for the conveyance of vast amounts of signal as in the signals themselves. That is, the applications which make use of the network. Among the various possible applications, electronic commerce is expected to make the most use of the Global Information Infrastructure and is a likely candidate to help finance the building of the infrastructure. Development of other applications on the Global Information Infrastructure for interpersonal interaction is equally important. All this will rely on the development of the application software, the interfacing protocols and standards among various application systems and sectors, and the necessary legal and regulatory framework to ensure data security, protection of consumer and intellectual property rights, etc. This in turn will require the co-operation among the computing, communications, information and financial sectors, as well as international co-operation to ensure that cross-border flow is smooth and efficient. The Asian Telecommunications Industry Exchange Forum is in a good position to explore and promote such co-operation among its members, with a view to creating a seamless electronic communication environment in the region and in the world.

Apart from the physical networks and the application software, we also need the necessary human resources to create and to maintain the hardware and software in order to support a sustainable development of the information infrastructure. Education and manpower training in information technology and related applications is therefore of paramount importance in our journey to an information society. Again members of this Forum can have a significant role to play in supporting the development of human resources and education in these areas.

I would like to conclude my address today by calling upon the participants in this Forum and indeed everybody in the telecommunications industry to help explore co-operation in the development of the future Global Information Infrastructure. I would also like to encourage members of this Forum to explore and to co-operate in the development of human resources and IT education. The development of telecommunications in the region has a bright future ahead. How to shape that future rests in our own hands.

Thank you.