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Dr John Chen, Minister of State for Communications Keynote Opening - GMPCS Asia 1998

Dr John Chen, Minister of State for Communications
Keynote Opening - GMPCS Asia 1998
Singapore, 3 March 1998

Distinguished guests,
Ladies and gentlemen,
Good morning,

It gives me great pleasure to officiate at the opening of the GMPCS Asia 98.

We live in a world that is increasingly being shrunk, in terms of distance and time, by new communications technology. For example, it is common now to watch events happening in other parts of the world "live" over television from the comfort of our homes. We can access all kinds of information that resides all over the world through Internet and share with others our knowledge in return. We are also able to speak to and even see our friends, relatives or business counterparts in other parts of the world via the telephone lines or reach them by email, almost anytime of the day. Distance and time are no longer barriers in communications. For the first time in the history of Man, the vision of a global village and global marketplace can become a reality.

But behind all this exciting development, there is still a concern that the global village will only extend as far as those who have the means to take part in it. A global village can be truly global only if a majority of countries are able to participate in it, or otherwise it would become an exclusive country club. This vision of a global village may not be realised in the near term. For example, based on the ITU Telecommunication Development Bureau report of 1997, in the Asia Pacific region alone, the difference in the level of telephone density ranges from as high as 50% for some, to less than 1% in other lesser developed countries.

In this respect, it is heartening to know that new communications technology are being developed to help these countries who lagged behind to leap-frog the development cycle. We have heard how new digital wireless technology has helped countries provide communications to the people living in rural areas. We have also seen how communications technology can help others access educational and medical care services through distance learning and tele-medicine. The subject of today's conference, Global Mobile Personal Communications by Satellite, or GMPCS, has the potential to complement and extend the existing basic communication services and bring the vision of a global village nearer to fruition.

The attractiveness of GMPCS lies in the fact that it can provide ubiquitous mobile and fixed communications to people, regardless of terrain and national borders. It would help serve the needs of a diverse range of users, from the globe-trotting businessmen who wants to remain contactable anywhere, anytime; to people living in remote and rural areas, where communication facilities are scarce because they are either physically impossible, or economically not viable, to build. Because GMPCS provides a communication link from handheld terminals directly to the satellites overhead, one could in theory call home from the top of Mount Everest or in the middle of Atlantic Ocean if one wishes with a GMPCS terminal. GMPCS also offers a reliable means for communications in times of natural catastrophes such as earthquakes and floods, when land-based communication systems would likely have been destroyed.

However, new technology does not always guarantee acceptance. While technological advancement brings new opportunities for telecommunication service providers and caters to the increasingly sophisticated needs of today's consumers, it also poses a challenge to regulators and national policy makers to ensure that their policies keep pace with the changes and remain relevant, while at the same time safeguarding their own national objectives. The trans-border nature of GMPCS services has raised new and unfamiliar concerns for many countries. For example, GMPCS services can theoretically be provided in a country without the service provider being physically present in the country. These concerns mainly revolve around the issues of national sovereignty and financial implications for their own telecommunications industry. It was in recognition of this that GMPCS was made the agenda item for ITU's first World Telecommunication Policy Forum in 1996. The Policy Forum was a success as contributions from participating delegates from all over the world produced a comprehensive, non-prescriptive and non-binding set of reports, which contain 5 Opinions to help facilitate the introduction of GMPCS services.

To enable GMPCS services to be truly global however, GMPCS operators and national policy makers would have to work with each other. GMPCS operators can provide more information to regulators and policy makers of individual countries for them to better understand GMPCS services. Similarly, GMPCS operators should also understand the unique goals and concerns of these countries. The objective of regulators and national policy makers will be to put in place a framework that can allow the development of new technology and services, which would bring benefits to both the economy and consumers.

In Singapore, we welcome all GMPCS services to be provided here, so that Singaporeans can have access to more choices of state-of-the-art telecommunication services. It will also enhance our position as the business and telecommunications hub. The Telecommunication Authority of Singapore (TAS) has invited GMPCS operators who have approached TAS to work with the existing public telecommunication services licensees to offer GMPCS services in Singapore.

GMPCS is a state-of-the-art communication technology that will propel telecommunications into another era. The challenge to keep up with technology is one that is continuous and on-going. History has shown that we cannot stop or prevent new services brought about by technological advancement, but if we embrace them, there are great benefits to be reaped.

GMPCS will clearly have to complement and integrate into the overall telecommunication development programmes and projects of different countries. By working with national regulators and policy makers, and taking a multilateral but unified approach toward solving the issues brought about by GMPCS services, GMPCS operators can gain wider acceptance among countries as a means of telecommunication development, and achieve mutual benefit for both the operators and users. Only then would we have taken another step toward realising our vision of a global village.

This conference is indeed a timely one. On this note, it is my pleasure to declare GMPCS Asia 98 open.

Thank you.