Led by 3G and 4G mobile networks, the Asia-Pacific region – home to half of the world’s mobile subscribers – is well on its way towards a new and broader mobile ecosystem – an ecosystem that is enabling high speed Internet access to previously unconnected populations, and offering a wide range of services, promoting innovation, embracing startups and social entrepreneurship.
The move to the mobile Internet is stronger in emerging economies from South and Southeast Asia. Telecommunication markets histories in these economies reveal that fixed line remained the least dynamic sector, giving birth to a digital divide particularly in terms of Internet access.
While 3G networks are strengthening their footprint, developed economies of the region such as South Korea, Japan, Singapore and Australia are regarded as world leaders with 4G LTE network in terms of coverage, quality and speed. A 2014 GSMA Intelligence report placed South Korea as the world’s most advanced 4G market.
According to GSMA mobile economy report 2014 for Asia Pacific, just over a quarter of total connections in the region were 3G by the end of 2013, while for 4G, the figure was only 3%. However, by 2020 these figures are forecast to rise to 34% and 28% of the total connections respectively.
Countries across the region are becoming a hotbed of innovation, coupled with a rapid adoption culture for new applications and services. Online messaging services such as Line (Japan), Hike (India) and WeChat (China) are such examples that gained popularity and are developing broader ecosystems. Mobile banking has emerged as another core service addressing financial inclusion issues faced by the large unbanked population in the region. Gartner forecasts that Asia Pacific will overtake Africa as the largest region for mobile payments by 2016 worth $165 billion. In Pakistan, according to the financial regulator’s annual payment system report 2014 – mobile banking saw a substantial increase of 149% during the past one year reaching PKR (Pak rupee) 67.2 billion (approx. USD 668 million).
As well, an emerging generation of entrepreneurs in Asia-Pacific is now utilizing mobile platforms to launch both commercial and social startups. Grab Taxi is one of many successful examples – it is a taxi mobile app booking service from the Malaysian-based startup now serving users in Malaysia, Philippines, Thailand, and Singapore. The app has been downloaded more than 2.1 million times and serves over 400,000 monthly active users. According to appsasia, Asia-Pacific has grown to be the most robust mobile applications market in the world – worth USD 5.9 billion by end 2013.
From the devices perspective, we are observing a general fall in the price of mobile handsets, together with an increase in processing power and features, however the region is also building a local handset manufacturing industry. We witness a number of relatively new smartphone manufacturers rapidly establishing their brand in local markets. Micromax (India), Smartfren (Indonesia), FPT (Vietnam), Ninetology (Malaysia), I-Mobile (Thailand) and Qmobile (Pakistan) are some of these local brands.
The mobile industry in Asia-Pacific has seen strong growth in recent years, both in terms of revenues and subscribers; contributing USD 864 billion to the region’s gross domestic product (GDP) in 2013 (Source: GSMA). This paradigm shift of a broader ecosystem has already shown profound impact on all aspects of life and has an even more active role to play in building the digital society.
However, there still remain a number of challenges in order to realise the full potential, and this requires continued collaboration between governments, regulators, industry and other stakeholders.