Growing the Internet

Young people use mobile Internet more intensively in Asia-Pacific

As the industry gears up for the Mobile World Congress (MWC) this month, a new study released today by the Internet Society suggests that mobile may be everywhere but, contrary to the meeting’s slogan, it isn’t everything yet—at least not to everyone in Asia-Pacific.

The Mobile Internet Usage Trends in Asia-Pacific report, based on a survey of 1,620 Internet users from 37 economies in the region, found that younger people, specifically those below 25 years old, have a more diverse engagement with the mobile Internet – using it for activities that range from social networking and entertainment, to jobs and education. A similar trend was observed among respondents who are either mobile first, or have switched to mobile as their primary means of going online.

But overall, mobile Internet in Asia-Pacific continues to be predominantly used for information and communication, with more than three-quarters using it for email, web searches, social media, and voice and messaging apps. By contrast, less than half of survey respondents were using it for purposes that are more closely associated with socio-economic development, such as e-banking and government e-services.

Other usage patterns are correlated with age: Both prepaid subscription (77%) and app downloads were highest among those below 25 years old. Conversely, multiple device ownership, as well as postpaid plans peaked in popularity among respondents aged 45 years or older.

Mobile Internet is clearly becoming a familiar presence in people’s daily lives, with some 90% of survey participants going online through their mobile device everyday. Beyond the gadgets, respondents, especially those from emerging economies, have indicated a much stronger preference for Wi-Fi (72%), with a similar proportion stating that faster connection speeds (77%) and lower data costs (68%) would encourage them to use their mobile data connection. To date, just over a third of the population in Asia-Pacific use mobile networks to access the Internet.

This provides an opportunity to cultivate choice, through more targeted investments, policies and solutions to encourage not only increased coverage and affordability of mobile broadband, but also the development of other wireless platforms and technologies, whether it is community mesh networks or TV white space, by which existing and future users in Asia-Pacific can go online cheaply, reliably and securely.

Download the full Mobile Internet Usage Trends in Asia-Pacific report.


Image credit: Nopphan Bunnag on Flickr. CC BY NC ND

Growing the Internet Improving Technical Security Privacy

The Mobile Divide

Thanks to the growth of the mobile Internet, there are now three percentages that are relevant to the digital divide globally: 94, 48, and 28.

All three are amazing.

Mobile telephony grew faster than almost anyone would have predicted 15 years ago, to the point where at least 94% of the world’s population receives a signal. The great news is that, as fast as mobile telephony took off and leap-frogged fixed telephony in the developing world, the mobile Internet has taken off even faster.

Internet access can be added to a mobile network with far less investment than building the original network, leading to a rapid rollout of mobile Internet service that already covers at least 48% of the population worldwide. And from a standing start just six or seven years ago, more than 28% of the population worldwide have already subscribed.

These numbers mask significant regional variation, of course. In developed Asia Pacific, 99% of the population has a 3G signal, and 103% have subscribed, given multiple subscriptions for some. On the other hand, in Sub-Saharan Africa, where 84% of the population has a mobile signal, 35% have a 3G signal, and so far only 8% have adopted (see below).

The common thread in all developing regions is that availability of Internet is no longer the limiting factor – it is always greater than adoption levels, and can relatively easily grow to cover the entire mobile network if needed. The key question should be why potential users who could have service have not taken it?

The answer is two-fold. First, of course, affordability is a key issue, where in some countries broadband still costs 10% or more of average monthly income and is thus out of range for most. Second, though, is relevance. Is there content available in the local language? Is it of interest? Useful? If the answer to these questions is no, then chances are many who could afford Internet access will spend their time and money elsewhere.

The mobile Internet is not just changing the way we think about development, it is evolving how we consume, and create, content online. Rather than browsing, increasingly we use apps, which are convenient and enable us to easily access all of the features built into a smart device – including location, video, and environmental sensors. Apps also can provide a global marketplace to sell content through app stores, increasing the availability of content that may bring more online.

Unfortunately, not every country has access to every app store, and not every app store has access to every app.

So what can be done to help these regions clear these final barriers to fully embrace the Internet and its advantages?

With regards to cost, governments can help by removing any barriers to connectivity, such as high costs for deploying infrastructure, and managing spectrum efficiently to promote innovative uses, particularly in underserved rural areas. Additionally, governments should remove taxes on equipment, devices, and services that act to depress demand. Finally, promoting the local hosting of content can avoid the use of relatively expensive international capacity to access content, lowering the cost of usage accordingly.

Hosting content locally will also lower latency, and thereby increase the usage, and relevance, of the existing content. To help increase the amount of available content, governments should remove unreasonable legal challenges that might inhibit content creation or availability, helping to equalize the user experience around the globe. Governments can also help to promote content creation by developing their own mobile services, hosting them locally, and promoting the capacity building to support these activities.

Greater accessibility to apps will also promote adoption and usage, and in this we encourage more use of web apps. A web app enables developers to create websites with advanced features that can be installed on a mobile device with an icon similar to existing apps. Developers can create one web app for all platforms – consumers can easily move between platforms the way they switch browsers today – and new platforms can enter and compete on more of an even ground.

As we collectively celebrate the amazing numbers already achieved by the mobile Internet in closing the digital divide, we should also work hard, together, to make sure that the remaining challenges are met in order that existing and new users enjoy a mobile Internet that delivers the hope and promise the Internet can bring to everyone.

For a broader discussion of these issues, please check out the Internet Society’s Global Internet Report 2015, which delves deeper into mobile’s impact on the digital divide and a host of other issues related to the mobile Internet.


ISOC Asia-Pacific Bureau: Building engagements in Pakistan

Home to around 180 million people, Pakistan is an important economy in the South Asian region. The country is witnessing an exponential growth in terms of Internet usage, especially for the mobile broadband segment, reporting over 600% increase in data usage during the last quarter. It may be noted that 3G and 4G LTE services only made their entry last year in Pakistan offering a new dimension to the overall Internet growth.

Internet Society Asia-Pacific Bureau is building engagements with local stakeholders; the team was recently in Islamabad and Lahore on an engagement trip.

In partnership with Pakistan Telecommunication Authority, mobile operators and Samsung Pakistan, the Bureau spearheaded the first-ever ‘Pakistan Mobile Apps Award’  aimed at encouraging young innovators and entrepreneurs to develop innovative mobile applications. It received over 100 entries, and an awards ceremony was held in Islamabad to recognize the winners of the competition. The event was attended by representatives from the Ministry, industry, academia and media.

The Bureau was invited for to give a talk on ‘Network Neutrality’ at the Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS). It was great to observe the attention of the participants and how the young generation in Pakistan is mindful of Internet issues.

The Bureau team also visited LUMS Center for Entrepreneurship founded in summer 2014. Since then, 13 startups have graduated from the center in two cohorts. The third cohort of 16 startups is currently being mentored and groomed to become high-growth businesses of tomorrow. The center has already created over 60 jobs, generated over $200K in annualized revenue and raised close to $600K of investments.

The Bureau team also held meetings with the chairman of the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority, the CEO of the Comsats Internet Services  and the Internet Society Pakistan Islamabad Chapter.

A number of potential areas for partnership was identified with the office of the regulator and industry players; the Bureau looks forward to further strengthening its work and engagements in Pakistan.



Community Projects Internet Governance

Going Mobile in Barcelona

Photo: android – google space CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Next week, in Barcelona, a number of us at the Internet Society, led by our CEO Kathy Brown, will travel to Barcelona for this year’s GSMA Mobile World Congress, taking place from 2 – 5 March. There we will join Ministers and CEOs, vendors and operators, to speak at events, to listen at others, and to join thousands marveling at the latest in smart phones, tablets, and other devices. What draws us there can be summarised in a few key milestones, and their link to our mission.

Ten years ago, there were less than 1 billion Internet users, and broadband had just surpassed dial-up as the main form of access. The number of Internet users now stands at or near 3 billion users, and broadband is the predominant form of access. While driven by a constant pace of rapid growth, the growth in the number of users has been marked by two overwhelming trends in the expansion and evolution of the Internet.

  • First, as of early 2008 there were more users in developing countries than developed countries.
  • Second, by early 2010 there were more mobile broadband users than fixed broadband users.

Combining these two trends, the number of mobile broadband users in developing countries overtook the number in developed countries in 2012.

The rapid increase in take-up of mobile broadband is significant, as it is increasingly the means by which people access the Internet. Our interest, however, is focused on the evolution of the resulting mobile Internet, as users increasingly access new mobile services from anywhere, over increasingly powerful smart devices.

Looking forward, it is clear that the mobile Internet will play a key role in bringing the next billion users online. The mobile Internet is therefore central to realising our mission that ‘The Internet is for everyone’. We wish to make sure that the mobile Internet remains open and that its nature remains collaborative and inclusive, regardless of changing means of access.

Each new user benefits from being connected, as they can write and read blogs, join social networks, interact with government, innovate new services and buy from others. As the Internet grows, so do the benefits, as there are more potential buyers and sellers, more blogs to read, and more possibility for social interaction. So the 3 billionth user certainly enjoys more benefits from the impact of the Internet than the 2 millionth did before. These benefits should not be taken for granted though, as they result from the Internet remaining open, allowing for the permission-less innovation that has driven this growth.

On Wednesday, Kathy will give the keynote for the panel on the Economics of Internet Governance at which she will discuss how the multi-stakeholder governance model for the distributed Internet will enhance the social and economic benefits of the mobile Internet world-wide. I will moderate a panel on the regulatory enablers and obstacles to innovation of and for the mobile Internet.

The central theme is the economic opportunity of the Internet, and the role that we must all play to ensure that, as the Internet grows and develops and that as access to the Internet becomes increasingly based on mobile, it remains open and true to the founding principles that led to its success.

As the 4 billionth new user is likely to be using some form of mobile Internet, using some version of the smart devices on display in Barcelona, we are going to Barcelona to play our part to ensure that the 4 billionth user enjoys even more opportunities from the open Internet than the 3 billionth.

Growing the Internet

Asia-Pacific: Home to a New and Broader Mobile World

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.