Asia is on the brink of tapping into its true potential, but crucial infrastructural problems continue to thwart growth across the region, particularly poor interconnectivity between nations and lackluster telecommunications infrastructure. Nevertheless, Asian nations and private actors alike have not yet come up with proper solutions to modernize the region’s connectivity.

For the future of Asian growth and global economic unity, the connectivity problem must be conquered once and for all. A stronger digital economy stands ready to reward the region by integrating it into the modern digital age.

Internet inequality rampant

Many Asian nations are pioneering cutting-edge digital technologies. China’s Alibaba leads the way, but there are many businesses across the region that are providing invaluable contributions to the expansion of the Internet and the proliferation of helpful and enjoyable digital goods and services. Nevertheless, Internet inequality is rampant across Asia and hampers regional development. Unicorn tech companies alone won’t cut it – we need more infrastructure spending and state-led initiatives focused on bolstering digital expertise.

In the Philippines, for instance, Internet inequality has led to those in developed areas enjoying substantially higher-quality services than those in more rural regions. Users in Metro Manila see substantially faster Internet speeds at congested times than their rural peers – an issue not confined to the Philippines. Until connection equality is achieved in the region, few Asian nations will be able to provide their populations with the type of high-speed and consistent access to the Internet that has become a prerequisite for success in the modern age.

Logistical hurdles continue to thwart any efforts to diminish that inequality, however, and some states are beginning to wallow in despair due to a growing disbelief in the capacity to offer the Internet to everyone. Additional investment by telecom companies is sorely needed, though that won’t be enough in and of itself. Governments must also step up to provide regulatory frameworks to allow these telecommunication companies to compete with one another and flourish in the resulting marketplace that cuts out inefficiency. These investments may seem like a drag on economic growth, but the truth of the matter is that they’ll supercharge future economic expansion.

Asia is currently driving the global growth of mobile payments, for instance, and additional and refined telecommunications infrastructure will enable more cashless transactions to occur across state boundaries and create a powerful industry. States with budgetary concerns about expanding Asian interconnectivity should thus consider what they’re missing out on when they refuse to fund the proliferation of digital goods and services.

Congestion constraints

Until relatively minor congestion problems are resolved, few of the big-picture solutions to Asia’s other interconnectivity problems will ever materialize. Congestion difficulties aren’t merely plaguing underdeveloped states, either; even Japan has been struggling with congestion problems to such an extent that the government is now mulling additional regulations to cut back on excessive Internet usage. Until interconnectivity can be assured without the menace of congestion looming over the head of users, such restrictive regulations design to maintain existing inadequate infrastructure will continue.

Some solutions are emerging to fix the congestion issues on legacy systems by innovating the way hubs and nodes correspond with one another. William Erbey, an investor in tech solutions, says the key is to determine which data is useful and discard the rest.

“This is particularly true in forecasting congestion on the Internet. Capturing billions of data points every millisecond is not only impractical but also non-productive. Most of the data has a negative value in that using it will lead to incorrect conclusions. Excellent analytics, not just capturing data, however, are invaluable,” Erbey says.

By taking the right steps now, Asian countries can stave off the worst and ensure a brighter and more connected future for their citizens.

Coming closer together

Asia’s information-technology problems are often regional and thus require a concerted and regional response. Dismantling inflexible legacy systems from previous generations and implementing new software and infrastructure more suited for the 21st century should be a regional priority. As the World Bank has persuasively argued, building a stronger digital economy also necessitates an educated base of citizens who are forward-thinking and eager to implement change.

That means injecting digital technology into classrooms across Asia and emulating government-led initiatives that have proved to generate success when it comes to instilling digital skills in the population. Singapore’s SkillsFuture initiative could be widely replicated by other nations, for instance, and governments should strive to digitize their own operations in order to lead the private sector by example.

Asia’s connectivity problem can’t be solved overnight, and many of the necessary solutions needed to revive the region will be very expensive. A failure to invest in the future will outweigh any present costs associated with bolstering Asian interconnectivity, however. Regardless of the difficulties that lie ahead for Asia, the region must eagerly embrace any opportunity to bolster connections between nation-states and the people they govern.