2011 Asia - Mobile Data, Wireless Broadband Market and Forecasts

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Last updated: 10 Aug 2011 Update History

Report Status: Archived

Report Pages: 368

Analyst: Paul Budde

Publication Overview

This market report provides an overview of the Mobile Data and Wireless Broadband Market segment across the various markets of Asia. Some 31 Asian countries are covered in the report. It is noted that the amount of information offered is obviously dependent on the relative size of the market in each of the respective countries. The coverage in the report also results in some segment overlap as we see increased convergence in the mobile data and wireless broadband markets.

The countries covered in this report include: Afghanistan, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, China, Georgia, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Japan, Kazakhstan, Laos, Macau, Malaysia, Maldives, Mongolia, Nepal, North Korea, Pakistan, Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, Tajikistan, Thailand, Uzbekistan, Vietnam.

Researchers:- Peter Evans and Lisa Hulme-Jones
Current publication date:- August 2011 (8th Edition)

Executive Summary

Surging data traffic sees the acceleration of off-load strategies

Mobile data services in Asia

With some 2.6 billion Asians using mobile phones going into 2011, the region’s mobile markets offer huge potential for mobile data services.

The growth of wireless internet in Asia is being driven by competition in the market place and by the advent of 3G and 3.5G services. Market competition has been driving handset prices and airtime tariffs downward, thus opening up mobile services to wider adoption. The rate of adoption of wireless internet has started to rise with the overall increase in mobile penetration together with networks being progressively upgraded to next generation platforms.

While 3G licensing and the ongoing launch of 3G services in Asia has certainly been promoting the growth of 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.

Mobile data is not a new phenomenon in Asia. Regional public networks based on Mobitex technology were established in Singapore, Indonesia and South Korea. Another form of mobile data, the DataTAC network, was made available in Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand, with network trials in South Korea, Japan and China. The DataTAC networks established in Asia were more extensive than the corresponding networks in either Europe or the US.

An example of widespread adoption of a particular mobile data service has been the Short Message Service (SMS) capability of GSM and other digital cellular technologies. SMS, which allows the sending and receiving of basic text messages, became very popular throughout Asia, with remarkable growth being experienced 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 in the ability to offer more Value-Added Services (VAS) and, in particular, access to the internet. A number of technologies are competing for the region’s mobile internet market. In Singapore, Hong Kong, South Korea, and a number of other countries, in an effort to chase this market, offerings based on the Wireless Application Protocol (WAP) standard were tried. Apart from South Korea, however, WAP failed to claim any significant share of the market.

In Japan, by contrast, NTT DoCoMo launched its i-Mode service and its two rivals –SoftBank and KDDI - launched their own versions of i-Mode with dramatic success, with over 80% of mobile subscribers in Japan logging on from a mobile using one of these platforms. In fact, mobile subscribers accessing the internet almost equal the fixed line users. Another system that has supported mobile data, the General Packet Radio Service (GPRS), grew out of GSM. Labelled as a 2.5G technology, it has been adopted in a significant number of Asian markets.

Mobile data development in Asia is being essentially built on the 3G technology platform. An example of the way in which 3G has been progressively reshaping the mobile markets across the region can be found in Singapore. By June 2011 the number of mobile subscribers had reached 7.5 million for a penetration of 147%; of these subscribers a significant majority, 5.2 million, were signed up to 3G services. In other words just the 3G subscribers alone represented a penetration in excess of 100%.

The other big change in comparing 3G with 2G is the shift to postpaid. Even though operators in Singapore are offering prepaid 3G services, a solid 70% of 3G subscribers are in fact postpaid. The other obvious feature of the Singapore market has been the rapid uptake of 3G; the proportion of 3G subscribers has moved from just 4% of mobile subscribers in 2005 to around 70% in just over five years.

By 2011 almost all markets in Asia had witnessed the licensing and launch of 3G networks. With India finally moving along the 3G path with its auction process in 2010, the last remaining significant market in region not to have introduced 3G is Thailand. Following years of setbacks and postponements, Thailand was expecting its 3G auction to be held some time in 2011/2012, once the new National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC) is formally established.

The widespread adoption of High-Speed Downlink Packet Access (HSDPA) and HSUPA is also observed throughout Asia. These technologies are designed to increase the available data rate and extend the capabilities of 3G networks.

Both Japan and South Korea saw the launch of LTE in 2011. With smartphone adoption already verging on 50% in South Korea, the race is on to provide infrastructure that supports even higher data usage.

At end-2010, China had amassed 303 million mobile internet customers, accounting for 66.2% of the country’s total internet users. Moreover, some 30.7 million users’ only means of accessing the internet in 2009 was via their mobile phone. Mobile internet is booming in urban China with the introduction of more advanced phones, mobile software and attractive plans from operators. Mobile chatting via QQ, and instant messaging (IM) tool similar to MSN Messenger, has been embraced by the young, while mobile applications that make Chinese characters easier to type and simplified browsing tools have encouraged more mobile internet use.

China is one example of expanding mobile internet use driving data growth. Across the region the introduction of mobile TV will also have an impact on data usage.

China - mobile internet subscribers – 2006 - 2010


Subscribers (million)

Percent of internet users
















(Source: BuddeComm based on MIIT data)

 Asia – selected 3G subscribers by market – December 2010


3G subscribers


Percent of mobile subscribers




Hong Kong






North Korea



South Korea






(Source: BuddeComm based on industry data)

 Singapore – 2G and 3G mobile subscribers – June 2011



Percentage of total subscriber base

2G subscriptions









Total 2G subscribers



3G subscriptions









Total 3G subscribers



Total subscribers (2G+3G)



(Source: BuddeComm based on IDA data)

Wireless broadband in Asia

After a somewhat tentative start, wireless broadband access in its various forms is starting to take hold in Asia. This has seen a flurry of activity as operators rush to acquire the necessary frequency licences. The sector had experienced problems earlier on involving unreliable equipment and network design faults. These have become things of the past.

The challenge still facing the industry, however, is to establish viable business models that allow wireless to compete with the more established service offerings - DSL and cable modem platforms in the case of fixed wireless broadband and next generation mobile telephony platforms in the case of mobile wireless broadband. Wireless broadband systems are expected to eventually become a key feature of the broadband access landscape across Asia. Apart from Wireless Fidelity (WiFi) and World Interoperability for Microwave Access (WiMAX) platforms, wireless technologies include Local Multipoint Distribution Systems (LMDS) and Multichannel Multipoint Distribution Service (MMDS).

Whilst there has been some activity in the providing of WiMAX networks, the real test will be the advent of mobile WiMAX. The initial roll-out of mobile WiMAX in Asia has begun but it has been a cautious start. The technology continues to be strongly supported at this stage of its development. The big question is whether it will become a mass market platform or simply satisfy a niche market need. Malaysia is one market to watch in Asia where that question may be answered.

The Malaysian telecom regulator made a significant move in 2007 when it awarded 2.3GHz WiMAX licences to four relatively small operators, ignoring the well established telcos, in what was seen as a bid to diversify the broadband internet market. By 2011 these WiMAX operators were making their presence felt in what is a small but quickly growing wireless broadband market.

Key operators in the region are investing heavily in WiFi and the deployment of femtocells for mobile network offload. South Korea for example, has seen an 11-fold jump in mobile data traffic over a one year period and Wi-Fi traffic accounting for a third of all mobile traffic. Leaders in mobile data usage, there is a new drive for NFC chips in smartphones which will further drive data usage.

Data in this report is the latest available at the time of preparation and may not be for the current year.

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