Asia: The Wired Continent

Part 1: Overview

Asia is truly on the cutting edge of digital technology. From communications and social networking to television, payments and transportation, many of the most exciting new products and technologies are coming from the East, and its citizens are embracing it enthusiastically.

This summer, JustAskGemalto invites you to immerse yourself in the Asia, “The Wired Continent,”. Coming up first in this article, JustAskGemalto introduces you to Asia, focusing on some of the most innovative ways digital technology is being used, and provides a glimpse of what the rest of the world can expect for the future.

Mobile Phones: Expanding Coverage, Services
The mobile phone market is one of Asia’s most exciting. China is now the world’s largest cellular marketplace with 627 million subscribers, while 2.5G and 3G cellular technologies have seen significant uptake in Japan and Korea. Now, in response to high demand, cellular networks are now being extended underground into the subway systems. In Hong Kong, the Mass Transit Railway (MTR) underground cellular network supports 3G and high-speed mobile broadband services, while in Singapore, MTR users enjoy underground cellular GSM and 3G coverage.

Another way the mobile phones are expanding rapidly is through new services. One of these is mobile TV, a service that is rapidly taking off in China and became popular during the 2008 Beijing Olympics, as well as something in Japan known as “oya yubi seddai,” or “the thumb generation.” “The thumb generation” describes users that write entire novels on their mobile phones. In 2000, the creators of the Web site Maho no i-rando developed software to allow users to upload novels from their mobile phones in serial form. Since then, ‘keitai’ (cell phone) novels have become a big part of Japanese culture, occupying five of the top 10 places on last year’s list of best sellers.


Digital Technology and Politics
One of the most innovative ways that Asia is using the Internet, social media and mobile phones is to play a role in political elections. Political parties are using digital solutions providers to introduce customized political messages into social networking sites such as Facebook, Orkut and MySpace.

Political parties are also offering potential voters free ring tones, text messages and wallpapers. Voters can receive details of candidates, party meetings, election rallies, voting dates and poll data – both before and after the elections – right on their mobile phones. All of these are great examples of how the ideas behind social media can be applied to politics, and are most likely advances we should see in the rest of the world.


Mobile payment is enhancing lives in countries such as India, China, Bangladesh, Indonesia and the Philippines, where mobile infrastructure is currently more prevalent than fixed-line infrastructure.
The mobile phone is turned in an ‘m-wallet,’ whereby the handset is used as an interactive wireless token to buy goods and services in shops, as well as tickets for railways, subways and buses.

Taiwan is at the forefront of Asian m-payment services, with all the island’s mobile carriers in the process of implementing the technology. Because Taiwan’s banks have supported contactless payments for some time, most retail outlets are ready for m-payment. FarEastTone, one of the major wireless service providers in Taiwan, recently conducted Asia’s first mobile contactless SIM-based Near Field Communications (NFC) trial. The results were encouraging: about 90% of those who took part felt positive toward the new service, while 80% were satisfied that it was secure. What’s more, 40% said they were sufficiently impressed with the service to be prepared to switch their day-to-day spending from plastic cards to a mobile phone-based payment system.


Mobile Ticketing
Transportation is another example of how the convergence of technologies is transforming the daily lives of Asian consumers. In this case, is it transportation ticketing and mobile phones. In Japan, where about 30 million people own contactless payment-enabled mobile phones, network operator NTT DoCoMo and the East Japan Railway Company have collaborated to allow train passengers to download tickets onto their phones using NTT’s ‘osafu-keitai’ (electronic wallet) technology. Along the same lines, consumers in the Chinese province of Chongqing can now use the Cqpass NFC payments system (which uses a custom-made mobile phone) to pay for travel on the regional transit network, along with a range of other goods and services.


Above are only a few examples of how Asia is leading the pack in becoming a truly wired continent. There are a number of theories about why Asia is such a hotbed of technological innovation. Whatever the case may be, the continent is definitely one to watch in the upcoming years to catch a glimpse of what we might expect to catch on throughout the rest of the world.

Summing Up:
• Asia is the “continent to watch” in terms of digital technology innovation
• Asia is using the Internet, social networking sites and mobile phones in a truly innovative way: to spread information in political elections
• Mobile phone service is in such high demand in Asia that mobile networks are increasing their coverage so subscribers can always be connected – even underground in subway tunnels
• With m-payments, mobile phones act like an “interactive wireless token” for subscribers to buy goods and services, as well as for transportation tickets. In some cases, consumers can download a ticket to their phone and use it in place of a paper ticket

Coming Up Next:
Part 2 of JustAskGemalto’s Wired Continent saga, a close look at the digital technology innovations in Singapore. “The Wired Continent: Focus on Singapore” will be published soon.