Asia mobile regulators lag behind West

Region's regulators fall behind in terms of regulating and pushing mobile entertainment, but are expected to leapfrog Western counterparts.
Written by Victoria Ho, Contributor

SINGAPORE--Asia's regulators lag behind those of the West, in terms of regulating and pushing the mobile entertainment industry in the region, said a global trade group policy advisor.

Suhail Bhat, the Mobile Entertainment Forum's (MEF) policy and initiatives director, told ZDNet Asia in an interview Monday, Asia's mobile adoption has exploded ahead of what regulators can keep up with.

The pace of innovation as well as the rapidly-growing population in Asia have made the region fertile for mobile entertainment to take off, but it has, to an extent, been hampered by the slow pace at which regulations are made, he said.

The mobile entertainment industry, being made up of so many parts including handset manufacturers to content makers to network operators, requires a regulator to lay down rules specific to it, so that mobile entertainment can take off steadily, he explained.

On the other hand, Western regulators such as the European Union (EU) were drafting policies for mobile services five years in advance, "pre-empting the industry on services that didn't even exist yet".

This has allowed for some hits and misses, where the industry was ready with frameworks as services came out--but also has rules around services no one uses, he said.

And like the technology leapfrogging that has occurred in some of Asia's emerging regions, these markets can also leapfrog framework-setting and apply what has been proven to work, he added.

Mobile app stores driving convergence
An example of a framework the mobile entertainment industry needs is a way to track the mobile app purchases made, said Bhat.

This has been difficult because of the number of vendors involved. An app store has to coordinate purchases across telcos and devices, as well as attempt to segment the data by demographics, in order to make sense of it, he explained.

The MEF has released a guide, the EU Audiovisual Media Services Directive, aimed at addressing this with regulators and industry players, by recommending them a template.

Work is far from being done, however, Bhat noted. "It's an ongoing project."

But mobile app stores have been useful in tying the industry's myriad players together to get a common conversation going, he said. Because buyer information will alert each service company to market trends, and give them data to target specific segments, the industry is seeing the benefits of working together to make convergence a reality, he added.

"The industry still hasn't got it right, but we are the tipping point," said Bhat, of "true" convergence.

China market expected to double
According to a June global survey of MEF's members, the China market was estimated to grow 98 percent between March this year and next. Other areas such as India and the Asia-Pacific region were only estimated to grow 6 percent and 4.4 percent, respectively.

Bhat said the expectations for China are most likely pegged to its mobile adoption rates, as well as the release of 3G in the country.

While India too has a fast-growing population, its lack of 3G means the mobile entertainment industry, which relies heavily on mobile data traffic, has little means to take off like it has in China. Mobile data cost is also comparably prohibitive in the country, he said.

The report also highlighted areas such as social networking and games as fast-growing segments in the mobile market globally, with ringtones and wallpapers on the decline.

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