When your best friend is your mobile

Asia is way ahead of the rest of the world when it comes to wireless - the only two people in Hong Kong who don't have mobile...

Asia is way ahead of the rest of the world when it comes to wireless - the only two people in Hong Kong who don't have mobile phones are British. Jim Morgan is based in Hong Kong

There's been a lot written about mobile computing recently. Most of the research - generated in the US and to a lesser extent Europe - alludes to a bright WAP-happy future, but I believe that Asia will, for once, be way ahead of the rest of the world in this respect. Consider the evidence:

Exhibit A: The only two people I know in Hong Kong who don't have mobile phones are British. My Chinese ex-boss carried three, shamelessly. Mobile phones now outnumber fixed-line phones in Hong Kong by 4.6 million to 3.9 million, according to official figures. Not bad for a population of six million. While Hong Kong and Singapore have fine telephone systems, there are many countries in Asia where the phone system is appalling, and whole regions where it is non-existent. Everyone who can afford to, gets a mobile phone and sidesteps the public telephone network altogether. This creates a huge mobile phone user base. China has between 51 and 60 million mobile phone users depending on whether you believe the People's Daily or Gartner Group, and an estimated 50,000 WAP users. If that estimate is correct, WAP is growing five times faster than the Internet did in China when it first became available. A scary thought. Then there's Japan, where more than 60 million people use mobile phones to access the Internet, beating access by PC.

Exhibit B: My mum won't phone me on my mobile as she believes it's more expensive than phoning landlines. My friends in Hong Kong all try my mobile first. Mobile phones in Asia are cheap to run - as cheap as if not cheaper than conventional phone lines. For example, my Hong Kong mobile bill is around £20 a month for 400 minutes of talk time, and there is no extra charge for phoning a mobile number. I moved house about four months ago, and still haven't bothered to get my landline hooked up.

Exhibit C: In the UK people still look vaguely embarrassed when using their mobile phones - probably a reaction to the chorus of tutting that accompanies over-zealous public use. In Hong Kong people take calls without embarrassment in the middle of meetings, in the cinema and in the toilet. My ex-boss saw nothing wrong in changing his ring tone in the middle of a presentation I was making, or sending SMS messages to people sitting elsewhere in the room. While this is irritating and doesn't reflect well on my presentation skills, it underlines the difference in perception of mobile phones between Asia and the rest of the world. People love to use their phones here.

So that's why WAP is already happening in Asia. The devices are in people's hands, they're cheap, and people have the right mindset to use them. Now we just have to solve the small problem of getting some decent content...

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