The growing power of mobile handsets is making it likely that the majority of people in Asia's poorer nations could bypass PCs altogether, and use mobile phones as their main means of Internet access.
"It is likely that PCs and fixed internet will not dominate the mass market in some countries," said Ovum analyst Nathan Burley in a recent report on the Asia-Pacific broadband market.
"Wireless connectivity, and potentially mobile devices, could easily be the mass market internet access method. The increasing processing power and capabilities of handsets and wireless networks make this even more likely."
While highly wired countries like Japan and South Korea lead the online world, the have-nots in Asia's developing nations lag far behind.
Fewer than three million out of the more than 17 million households in the Philippines have a PC, for example.
Meanwhile, Indonesia, one the world's most populous nations at more than 226 million people, has only 2.5 million dial up connections shared between some 16 million users.
At the end of last year, there were fewer than 100,000 broadband connections in the whole country, according to Ovum's data.
Many consumers in these countries earn only US$100 to US$200 a month, making even a basic PC an unaffordable luxury.
Even for those few who do have PCs, broadband access charges can actually be higher than in more developed countries because of a less competitive market and lack of economies of scale for service providers.
Initiatives such as One Laptop per Child are attempting to provide cheaper hardware but, even when these products appear on the market, there are other issues that need to be addressed for cheap connectivity.
Taking the Philippines as an example, Burley explained how mobile access might appear more attractive to the average consumer.
"Growth in prepaid mobile has resulted in mobile penetration supplanting fixed growth, which remains stagnant at about four percent," he said.
"Fixed line installation also requires budget checks or registration requirements, which will limit DSL take-up."
Developing nations with stronger economies, such as Thailand, do show signs of moving forward, but broadband adoption in Thailand is still less than three percent of households.
"However, Thailand may be on the brink of further strong growth driven by government programs and cheaper access to PCs and broadband," predicted Burley.
"The Thai government continues to push for cheaper access, and the broadband competitive environment grows. This will continue to encourage growth in broadband connections."
Asia's poor consider Web access options
By Simon Burns on Nov 16, 2006 11:52AM