Key Takeaways from the GSMA’s Asia Pacific Policy Leaders Forum 2023

On 7 September 2023, the GSMA’s Asia Pacific Policy Leaders Forum brought together policymakers and industry leaders from across the APAC region in Seoul. This year’s event centred around critical policy issues that demand collaboration among policymakers, regulators, and the private sector to cultivate vibrant and sustainable digital nations in APAC. The discussions revolved around encouraging innovation, mitigating risks, securing the telecoms sector’s financial sustainability, and ensuring digital inclusivity and security. 

Policies for a Digital Future

The opening session, “Policies for a Digital Future,” focused on the transformative potential of emerging technologies, incredibly generative AI and post-quantum cryptography. Generative AI empowers machines to foster creativity, mimic human thinking, and generate content autonomously. At its core, Generative AI leverages deep learning models and neural networks to create new data, whether text, images, music, or even entire virtual worlds. Post-quantum cryptography is an evolution of classical cryptography fit for an era of quantum computers, where the mathematics involved in encryption are way more complex than today. 

The catalytic role of these technologies in driving innovation in digital services will reshape both business and society. Experts underscored AI’s staggering economic potential, with projections indicating it could contribute over $15 trillion to the global economy by 2030. The first wave of generative AI will be focused on work productivity. According to the McKinsey Global Institute, generative AI could increase corporate productivity by $2.6 trillion to $4.4 trillion annually, with impacts in industries such as financial services, hi-tech and life sciences, and in functions such as customer operations, marketing and sales, software engineering and R&D. AI products and services will become indispensable tools for addressing various challenges, including economic uncertainties, natural disasters, and climate change.  

However, the session emphasised the need to consider AI’s risks and ethical implications thoroughly. Similarly, in quantum computing, anything which is not quantum-safe today but encouraged widely will create a larger problem for the future. Trustworthiness and accountability emerged as critical aspects, not just from a moral perspective but also as a business imperative. Building trust with customers, generating goodwill, and expanding market share was contingent on this trust. Achieving this potential necessitates active collaboration among stakeholders, including policymakers, regulators, academia, and the private sector. A human-centric and risk-based approach was emphasised to ensure responsible and equitable deployment of AI and other emerging technologies. 

Securing Fair Returns in a Challenging Business Environment 

The second session, “Securing Fair Returns in a Challenging Business Environment,” delved into creating conducive business environments that support equitable returns on investments in the mobile ecosystem. The session spotlighted the transformative role of 5G in the digital age, serving as a vital enabler across various sectors. South Korea’s leadership in the ICT sector, characterised by world-leading electronics and ICT companies and unparalleled internet penetration rates, was acknowledged. The proliferation of new services and technologies, including AR/VR, AI, big data, and autonomous driving, was linked to high traffic volumes.  

The need for fair financing to support infrastructure modernisation became evident amid this growth. Specifically, the session highlighted the importance of content providers paying for network usage to sustain the Internet ecosystem. The pioneering South Korean model is based upon an access regime. Content providers only pay for access to the network, not termination, with the IP interconnection between content providers and internet service providers subject to negotiation. Different markets adopt diverse policy approaches to address the telecoms investment gap, with examples including reducing sector-specific taxation and reforming universal service funds. Collaborative efforts among governments, regulators, industry players, and stakeholders were identified as key to overcoming the challenges faced by the mobile industry and fostering a sustainable and thriving digital ecosystem. 

Building the Digital Nation

During the final session of PLF 2023, the GSMA launched its annual Digital Societies in Asia Pacific report. The session explored the five critical components of an inclusive digital nation: infrastructure, innovation, data governance, security, and people. These pillars ensure that no individual, community, or business is left behind, maximising digitalisation’s social and economic benefits. Regarding infrastructure, policymakers were urged to facilitate fair and transparent access to affordable spectrum and timely approvals for rights of way (RoW), thereby supporting cost-effective infrastructure deployment. Innovation was highlighted as a means to harness the potential of digitalisation, emphasising indigenous innovation to tackle unique challenges and build domestic skills and knowledge. Data governance emerged as a pillar for building trust among stakeholders, with the need to implement reliable and consistent data standards. Robust cybersecurity measures and collaborative efforts were deemed essential to address potential threats, underlining the significance of security. Lastly, enhancing digital skills among citizens was identified as a critical step to make them comfortable with a digital-first approach, enabling them to participate as creators and consumers of digital content. 

As digital technologies and services play an increasingly central role in APAC economies, two vital needs are a whole-of-government approach (WGA) and international collaboration in view of the cross-sector and cross-border implications of digital policies and initiatives. 

As the event ended, the Policy Leaders Forum underscored the importance of collaboration, innovation, ethics, and sound policy frameworks in shaping APAC’s vibrant and sustainable digital future. As emerging technologies continue to reshape the landscape, these insights provide a roadmap for policymakers, regulators, and industry leaders to navigate the challenges and opportunities ahead.