Asia Pacific Regional Internet Conference
on Operational Technologies
27-31 January 1997, Hong Kong
"Managing the Information Age"
Speech by Mr Anthony S K Wong
Deputy Director General
Office of the Telecommunications Authority
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is a great pleasure for me to address such a distinguished congregation of experts on information technology from all over the world. First of all, let me extend a warm welcome to those of you who have traveled far to come to this Conference. I hope you all find it satisfying and rewarding.
There is little debate, at least within the information technology community, that the information age has arrived. Suddenly, the Internet technology has made it possible for any one with a PC and a modem to be able to access an astronomical number of all kinds of data bases and information sources from all over the world. Apart from billions of volumes of text information that can be found in the Net, one can also easily download the Mona Lisa and other famous art collections in the Louvre Museum or take a virtual walking tour of the White House, repainting the walls of each room to your own taste as you go.
As a result of this information explosion, a problem that we all face now is how to manage the arrival of the information age. There are several layers to this issue that I should like to address. First, there is a significant mismatch between the information available and the physical infrastructure currently used to access that information. I did a back-of-the-envelope calculation last night and, I reckon that if I use the normal telephone line at its full speed of 34 kbps, it will take me over 1 million years to download all the information currently available in the Internet. I think no one who has used the Internet will disagree that the current infrastructure for Internet access is far too slow for any serious applications.
There is therefore no doubt that the existing telecommunications networks have to be upgraded to cope with the demand on rapid access to information. In Hong Kong we have already devoted substantial resources into the building of the information superhighway. In July 1995, we licensed three new local fixed telecommunication network operators to compete with the incumbent carrier Hong Kong Telephone Co. Ltd. In the past 18 months the new entrants have all started to roll out advanced optical fibre networks capable of providing future broadband multi-media services. The dominant operator Hong Kong Telephone has also invested significantly in the past few years to upgrade its narrow band telephone network, and will continue to expand its broadband capacity in the next decade. To date, some 200,000 km of optical fibres have been laid connecting up all telephone exchanges and reaching out to more than 1,500 buildings. The company has also tested in 1995 the Video-On-Demand (VOD) technology successfully and is planning to introduce an interactive multi-media service later this year based on the Internet technology. We also have a number of high capacity overland and submarine optical fibre cables linking up Hong Kong to the rest of the Asia Pacific Region and Europe and will be laying more in the near future. Very soon we will be able to overcome the bottlenecks of the physical infrastructure.
The next layer of the information infrastructure lies in the applications on the superhighway. Currently there are already many applications on the Internet and more and more new commercial applications are coming up every day. Again the development of applications on the information superhighway is hampered by the insufficient bandwidth and capacity of the physical networks, although other issues such as transmission security and intellectual property rights would also need to be resolved. I am sure once a high speed secure superhighway is being constructed businessmen will make the best use of the infrastructure. However, I think it is also important to start considering and even designing potential applications before completion of the construction of the superhighway. This will have the benefits of increasing public awareness of the coming information infrastructure which will affect every one and having the potential users to contribute to how the physical infrastructure is going to be designed to best meet their applications. Co-ordination among users, applications designers and network operators at the very early stages is therefore of vital importance.
With this in mind, OFTA is establishing an Information Infrastructure Advisory Committee to co-ordinate the construction and potential applications on the Hong Kong Information Infrastructure (HKII). This committee will consist of representatives from the telecommunications operators, the information technology industry, experts in the academic sector and other interested parties and organizations. The meetings and proceedings of the Committee will also be totally open to the public. Considerations will also be given to making the Committee’s work "Cyberactive", i.e. interacting with anyone interested in the process via cyberspace.
Within the APEC Region, co-ordination have also started among the 18 member economies on the construction of the Asia Pacific Information Infrastructure (APII) which will connect up all the local NIIs in the Region and also merging them with the future Global Information Infrastructure (GII).
The third and very important layer in the information infrastructure relates to the supporting and ancillary facilities and services. The promotion of computer literacy, suitable manpower planning, the protection of the privacy of personal data, the freedom of access to information and the protection of our minors all fall within the ambits of this layer. We will need to do a lot of work in the near future to ensure a smooth transition of our society into the information age. The Government, the private sector and everyone in the society will need to work together to achieve this important task. Needless to say, all of you experts here in this room will have a significant role to play in mapping out the future of our information society.
Finally, I wish that you have a very successful and fruitful conference in the next few days. I hope you will also find sufficient time outside the Conference room to enjoy Hong Kong’s best food, shopping and our beautiful scenaries.