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Chapter Highlights from ITU Internet Reports 2002: Internet for a Mobile Generation

Chapter Five:  Worldwide lessons for a new generation  

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“Many of the operators in the countries that have yet to initiate 3G deployment are taking a more gradual, or cautious approach”

The major Asian economies are the clear first movers in 3G licensing, with Japan and Korea being the first to actually deploy 3G services. But Hong Kong, China also awarded 3G licences early on, in an exemplary licensing process. Singapore, another ICT-friendly economy, may not make the move to 3G as rapidly as might be expected (see Box 1). Some of the less developed Asia‑Pacific economies, such as China, the Philippines, and Thailand are less ripe for 3G roll-out, and are in no rush to award 3G licences owing to their particular market contexts.

In Europe, many countries opted for an auction approach to licensing, and sold them off at prices that might have seemed justified at the height of the mobile boom during 1999 and 2000, but which have since been crippling to operators left with huge costs to recoup. In Latin America, a number of countries have fully embraced mobile telephony (see the examples of Chile and Venezuela in Figure 4, top chart), experiencing a mobile boom in relation to fixed-line growth. Africa has also seen high mobile growth rates, testifying to the capacity of mobile to substitute fixed-line telephones in developing economies, where fixed-line infrastructure is often lacking (see Figure 4, bottom chart).

Although the experience of Japan and Korea would suggest the huge potential of the mobile Internet, the high hopes for 3G have been somewhat dampened by the slump of recent years in the telecommunication sector as a whole, as well as evidence that some mobile markets are reaching saturation. Many operators in countries that have yet to initiate 3G deployment are taking a more gradual or cautious approach, concentrating their efforts on new multimedia-type applications over existing 2G platforms. Many are choosing to upgrade their systems to support higher data transmission speeds needed for images. This approach may be a useful way to “test the waters” for 3G, or to exploit more fully the potential of 2.5G technologies without the need to invest heavily in new 3G networks.  

But driving mobile growth alone is not enough: Internet content also needs to be accessible, and relevant, and efforts need to be made to lift language barriers. Thailand is one example of a country where the limited knowledge of English has been an obstacle to SMS use. This is in contrast on the one hand with Singapore, where English is widely understood, and on the other hand with Korea, where efforts to develop Internet content in Hangeul, and the availability of handsets that support the language characters, have contributed significantly to the success of mobile data applications.

In a number of countries, SMS has been the unexpected “killer application” that has sometimes—ironically—effectively delayed the introduction of 3G services. Prepaid schemes have also played a part, as exemplified by the case of the Philippines, but also borne out elsewhere. The “SMS phenomenon” shows that finding the elusive “killer application”, along with ensuring affordability of services, will be key factors for the success of 3G.


Figure 4: Latin American and African mobile markets

Mobile subscriber growth in Chile and Venezuela, 1995-2001

Mobile and fixed telephone penetration in selected African countries, year-end 2001

Source: ITU World Telecommunication Indicators Database

Relevant links

ITU Country Case Studies 

ITU New Initiatives Programme

ITU Strategy and Policy Unit



IDA (Singapore)

Korea’s NIC (Network Information Center)

OECD Website   

World Bank’s InfoDev Programme

Some african cellular statistics

Chilean Government Internet initiatives

Information on 3G licensing worldwide

Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore (IDA)

Information on World Trade Organization (WTO) Members’ commitments on the WTO

Ministry of Public Management, Home Affairs, Posts and Telecommunications, Japan


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