With some 3.6 billion people across Asia using mobile phones-around 52% of the number of mobile subscribers in the world-spread across a diverse range of markets, the asia telecoms market is already rapidly advancing in its exploiting of mobile data/wireless broadband services. Growth across Asia in high speed access to the internet by mobile wireless has been largely driven by highly competitive markets combined with preparedness to embrace new generation mobile technologies. With 3G and 3G+ platforms extensively covering the region, mobile broadband services are already well established. The rapid take up has been underpinned by increasingly cheaper smartphone prices and lower airtime tariffs combining to support even wider adoption. And now, of course, we have 4G/LTE providing a fresh impetus, especially in the region's pace-setting markets. By end-2014 mobile broadband subscriptions in Asia totalled just over 0.9 million-about 40% of all the mobile broadband subscribers in the world.
The more highly developed markets in the region, such as Japan, South Korea, Hong Kong, Singapore and Taiwan, have positioned themselves well to generally exploit mobile data and broadband wireless opportunities and lead the rest of the region into the next generations of mobile applications. As 3G transitions through 3.5G and onto 4G/LTE and we see consequential increases in speeds, as service improves, as content providers offer more services, and over-the-top (OTT) services gain greater traction, an exponential growth in data usage is occurring in the major markets. Hong Kong is a prime example of this explosion in mobile data.
Asia - mobile services-total mobile and mobile broadband-subscribers/penetration-2011-2014
Category | 2011 | 2012 | 2013 | 2014 (e) |
Mobile subscriptions |
Subscribers | 3,000,000 | 3,205,000 | 3,457,000 | 3,604,000 |
Penetration | 76.5% | 80.9% | 86.4% | 89.2% |
Mobile broadband subscriptions |
Subscribers | 432,000 | 605,000 | 753,000 | 920,000 |
Penetration | 11.0% | 15.3% | 18.8% | 22.8% |
While 3G licensing and the ongoing launch of 3G services in Asia has certainly provided the fundamental platform for growth in wireless data services, 3G has also been providing opportunities for both wireless access and content providers in domestic markets. In South Asia, in particular, more people own a mobile phone than a PC, giving the delivery of mobile data services huge potential there. Although one can obviously say that in terms of system sophistication 'the show has moved on' in the more advanced markets, 3G is continuing to provide the basis for ongoing development of mobile data across much of the region.
It should also be noted that mobile data is by no means a new phenomenon in the region. An example of the early widespread adoption of a particular mobile data service in Asia was the Short Message Service (SMS). SMS became very popular throughout Asia ahead of the wider market, with remarkable growth being experienced in particular in the Philippines and Malaysia, as well as in China.
The business plans of the majority of mobile operators have been built on the assumption that the key to further revenue growth lies not just in accumulating more and more subscribers, but in the ability to offer more Value-Added Services (VAS) and, most importantly, efficient and effective access to the internet. This in turn allows the operators to pursue higher ARPUs based on offering genuinely greater value added services plus improved quality to customers.
Another early move into mobile data within Asia was Japan's NTT DoCoMo launching its i-Mode service and its two rivals -SoftBank and KDDI- following with the launch of their own versions of i-Mode. The result was dramatically successful as an early push into largescale mobile data services; at its peak over 80% of mobile subscribers in Japan were logging on from a mobile using one of these platforms.
More recent mobile data development in Asia has essentially been built on the 3G and 3G+, now 4G/LTE technology. As a consequence, right across Asia, with the transition to a range of new generation mobile platforms, there has been a major shift from mobile voice to mobile data. A good example of the way in which next generation networks have been progressively reshaping the mobile markets across the region can be found in Singapore. (See table below.) By August 2014 the number of mobile subscribers stood at 8.2 million for a penetration of 152%; most significantly, of these subscribers 7.9 million were signed up to 3G or 4G services. That meant that just the 3G and 4G subscribers combined represented a population penetration already well in excess of 100% by that stage. In other words, Singapore had far more mobile broadband subscriptions than population.
Importantly, 4G/LTE already has a significant presence in the Singapore market. The three mobile operators all launched a form of 4G in 2012 and have since been rapidly expanding their coverage at a rate that effectively saw a full national presence by end-2013.
Singapore - Mobile subscribers - 2G, 3G and 4G, prepaid and postpaid-August 2014
Category | Subscribers | Percentage of total subscriber base |
2G subscriptions |
Postpaid | 98,500 | 1% |
Prepaid | 218,600 | 3% |Total 2G subscribers | 317,100 | 4% |
3G subscriptions |
Postpaid | 1,901,900 | 23% |
Prepaid | 3,199,600 | 39% |
Total 3G subscribers | 5,101,500 | 62% |
4G subscriptions |
Postpaid | 2,626,200 | 32% |
Prepaid | 184,500 | 2% |
Total 4G subscribers | 2,810,700 | 34% |
Total subscribers (2G+3G+4G) | 8,229,300 | 100% |
Although the two sample markets noted above-Hong Kong and Singapore - are obviously exceptional in that they are both geographically compact (which delivers a major advantage in the roll out of networks), we should nevertheless take careful note of the way things are developing as these markets provide useful models for how the wider market is likely to move.
Regionally, overall mobile broadband penetration was around 23% by early 2015. This represented a total of 920 million mobile broadband subscribers across the region. The number of mobile broadband subscribers was growing at around 25% annually. In the context of mobile broadband services, we should not ignore the WiMAX platform. Whilst there has been some activity in the providing of fixed WiMAX networks, the real test has been the advent of mobile WiMAX. The roll-out of WiMAX-based mobile services in Asia has begun; however, significant rollouts have been limited to just a few markets. The technology is looking more and more like a platform suited for niche markets. Pakistan, Bangladesh and Malaysia have notable WiMAX roll outs. Key operators in the region have been investing heavily in WiFi and the deployment of femtocells for mobile network offload. South Korea for example, saw an 11-fold jump in mobile data traffic over a one year period and WiFi traffic accounted for a third of all mobile traffic.
Data in this report is the latest available at the time of preparation and may not be for the current year.
See Full Report: Asia - Mobile Data and Wireless Broadband Market
Market Research International is a leading distributor of PREMIUM market research reports.