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MARCH 13, 2000 VOL. 155 NO. 10

Richard Li's 'Killer App'
The deal's real appeal: broadband
By ERIC ELLIS Singapore

Richard's cyberport

Why was Richard Li so hot to land Hongkong Telecom? Broadband. That's the buzzword for everyone's favorite next "killer app," the technology that will let us download nearly everything, fast. Think Hollywood blockbusters on demand, zapped via satellite instantly onto your Web-enabled TV. Or your refrigerator automatically reordering groceries--fat-free if your Net-linked bathroom scale suggests you've been eating too well lately. Savio Chow, U.S. Web portal Yahoo!'s boss in Asia, is thrilled about broadband's prospects. He looks forward to the day when his PalmPilot can command his daughter's electronic pet dog to bark bedtime stories to her while Dad is delayed 15,000 m above in business class. "It's about personalizing your life," says Chow, "and not living to someone else's code."

Cover: The Son Also Surprises
With a stunning takeover of Hong Kong's telecom giant, Richard Li steps out from the shadow of his tycoon father, Li Ka-shing
Richard Li's 'Killer App': The deal's real appeal: broadband
'I'm Not Cold Enough': Interview with 33-year-old Hong Kong tycoon Richard Li
Timeline: The rise and rise of the Li dynasty

China: Lesson Unlearned
An official promise of education for all remains unfulfilled, and tuition is spiraling out of reach for many of the rural poor. Can China's kids be saved?

Cambodia: Uneasy Lies the Crown
Cambodians confront a bewildering and politically charged list of possible heirs to their ailing monarch

India: Stealing Beauty
India's leopards, not its tigers, may face the greatest threat from poachers

The Name of the Game
Hong Kong investors flock to a dotcom firm with no track record. Why? Three words: Li Ka-shing

China Dot Now
The world's last big communist state is hit by a wave of Web mania, and the bureaucrats are fighting to contain it

Dotcom Mania
As Asia's Internet start-ups race toward lucrative listings, investors have dollar signs in their eyes

Coming of Age
Hong Kong's most successful Internet company wins control of telecom giant Cable & Wireless HKT. Now what?

More news from East Asia
The broadband revolution just on the horizon has already helped spur three of capitalism's most audacious business deals: America Online's proposed takeover of content and cable giant Time Warner (parent of this magazine's publisher); Motorola's merger with General Instruments and, most recently, Li's takeover of Cable & Wireless HKT. The technology, in other words, is red hot.

So what is broadband, anyway? Techies like to call it "fat pipe" or "chunky cable," but the terms don't capture the promise of the high-capacity, mega-speed fiber-optic nervous system. Broadband can come in the form of sophisticated cabling, or as wireless signals satellited directly to home or office. "When it's fully operational, we'll laugh about the quality of today's Net experience," predicts Mock Pak Lum, chief executive of Singapore's government-backed 1-Net broadband initiative.

You might have broadband capability already--on your office computer, perhaps, or maybe even at home via a service like HKT's Super Netvigator, whose network can reach 80% of Hong Kong with a technology called DSL, or digital subscriber line. Broadband services for the PC have also popped up in South Korea, Taiwan and Singapore. Two years from now, you could have broadband links on your mobile phone and personal digital assistant. More importantly, you'll have something to do with it. "The great thing about HKT is that they've got this network," says Joan Wagner, a CyberWorks spokesperson. "But no one subscribes, because they basically don't have much content going down the pipes."

Li's vision of the future is one in which satellites and modem-equipped cable TV boxes enable a villager in, say, Laos to be as wired to the Web as a banker in Tokyo. It's still some time off. But with his embrace of HKT, Li now has the basic infrastructure to chase his dream--if only in a small corner of the continent--by trying out his ambitious NOW (Network of the World) on Hong Kongers before turning to the rest of Asia--and the world.

But he also has a phone company to manage. Merged together, that's a big opportunity for this particular Web visionary. That is, if he can stop networking the dealmakers and start networking the region.

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