Qwest sets its sights on Asia

Following major expansions of its operations in the United States and Europe, telecommunications and broadband service provider Qwest Communications International Inc. is now making a determined push to become a force in the rapidly growing Asia-Pacific market.

The opening of the company’s new Asian headquarters coincided with the Asia Telecom 2000 conference and exhibition, taking place all this week across the street from Qwest’s new regional headquarters on Hong Kong’s Harbour Road. The move comes in the aftermath of the company’s expansion into the local telephony market in the U.S. through the acquisition of U.S. West Inc. and into Europe through a joint venture with Dutch telecommunications carrier Koninklijke KPN NV.

“Asia is by far the most attractive market at this time,” Ross Bernard Lau, president of international operations at Qwest, said in an interview in the new offices overlooking the Hong Kong harbor. “Our plans here are to establish ourselves as one of the key players.”

Ross’ game plan for the region includes a series of partnerships and alliances with local players in each market.

“We don’t try to do everything on our own,” he said. A series of alliances throughout the region, branded in part with the Qwest name, are part of the plan to initially win over multinational companies with offices in the region and, later, local corporations. For the latter, working with local carriers will give Qwest an advantage because of the relatively low brand name recognition it has in Asia.

On the network side, the company already has what Ross describes as a “significant slice” of capacity on the new Japan-U.S. fibre optic cable, which is scheduled to come online sometime in 2001. “We’re also looking at plans to extend our cable beyond Japan,” he said. “In Asia, we’re going to do some direct investment in facilities because, at the end of the day, the biggest single advantage that Qwest has in the United States is that we have the best network. So we’re going to extend that to Asia.”

In addition to the new bandwidth, Ross said Qwest has bought capacity on existing cables running between China and the United States as well as between Asia and Australia.

An early focus for the company is the North Asia market, encompassing Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, China and Hong Kong.

“It’s really no different from what every other company is doing,” Ross said of the geographic focus. The five nations all have large numbers of subscribers and demand for bandwidth is high from the local telecommunications carriers and Internet service providers. “Everyone is essentially following the money.”

Qwest, in Denver, can be reached at http://www.qwest.com/.