Asean intensifies plan to free up bandwidth for phones by 2020

Chinese Minister of Industry and Information Technology Miao Wei (left) and Dr Yaacob at the MOU signing at the Asean meet.
Chinese Minister of Industry and Information Technology Miao Wei (left) and Dr Yaacob at the MOU signing at the Asean meet.PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN

Asean countries are a step closer to turning off analogue television by 2020 to free up the bandwidth for 4G mobile services.

Telecommunications ministers of the 10 member states agreed to intensify cooperation for the plan at the two-day Asean Telecommunication and Information Technology Ministers Meeting 2013, which ended yesterday.

Four countries - Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei - are committed to having the bandwidth freed by 2020, while the others will be on board by then.

Local telcos said it would mean greater convenience for Asean to have the same 700MHz bandwidth across the board. This would allow 4G users to roam not just in Asean countries but also the US and Europe, said a spokesman for SingTel.

The greater bandwidth also allows services like high-definition movies on one's mobile phone across Asean, said Forrester telco analyst Clement Teo.

Minister for Communications and Information Yaacob Ibrahim said it was "a good start" with four countries agreeing to free up the bandwidth. He said the move would reap "digital dividends" for those on board. "This will be proof to other member states that if they can do the transition as soon as possible, they will reap the digital dividends too."

At their press conference yesterday, Asean ministers also expressed concern about cybercrime, including "hacktivism" - political activism via computer networs - and emphasised the importance of cross-border cooperation in combating the problem.

"We need to be able to share certain information - we need that cooperation within countries to deal with this in a decisive manner," said Dr Yaacob.

In September, Japan agreed to assist Asean member states in creating secure business environments, building secure communication networks and enhancing capacity for cybersecurity.

"Cyberattackers will always find out weak points, weak countries and go through them. Our task is to prevent this situation by working hand in hand to address these issues as a group," said the Vice-Minister for Policy Coordination (International Affairs) Masahiro Yoshizaki from Japan's Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications.

Hacktivism and cybercrime was a topic that the ministers "discussed over lunch and dinner", said Dr Yaacob.

Brunei's Minister for Communications, Pehin Dato Abdullah Bakar, said most countries were confident they had "robust software" against the hacking of sites. But ministers were concerned about "weak human elements", such as people storing restricted data on their computers. He reiterated the need for proper standard operating procedures for those accessing such data.

The ministers also said they were on track to complete the Asean ICT Masterplan in 2015. Initiatives include the Asean Broadband Corridor to level up broadband connectivity in member countries.

Asean yesterday also signed a memorandum of understanding with China to strengthen ICT cooperation in areas such as industry promotion, human resource and infrastructure development.

kashc@sph.com.sg