2013 Asia - Mobile Data, Wireless Broadband Market and Forecasts

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Last updated: 9 Dec 2013 Update History

Report Status: Archived

Report Pages: 219

Analyst: Paul Budde

Publication Overview

The line between mobile communications – voice services as opposed to broadband services – is becoming blurred by the rapid uptake of smartphones.

This makes it more difficult to produce reports with a clear delineation between the two sectors. This report concentrates specifically on the mobile broadband developments and therefore, in the developed mobile communication markets in particular, it does not include statistical and other information on the underlying mobile communication part of the market – for example, general statistics on mobile subscribers and revenues.

That information can be found in our other report on this market: Asia - Mobile Voice Market

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

Researchers:- Peter Evans, Paul Budde
Current publication date:- December 2013 (10th Edition)

Executive Summary

Group of highly developed markets in Asia offer useful models for industry future

With some 3.3 billion Asians using mobile phones - almost half of the number of mobile subscribers in the world – spread across a diverse range of markets, the region 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 a 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.

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 and as content providers offer more, an exponential growth in data usage is already occurring in the major markets. Hong Kong is a prime example of this explosion in mobile data.

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. (Note: Almost all markets in Asia had effectively launched of 3G networks by 2013; there were only a handful of markets yet to launch.)

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 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 as dramatically successful; 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 moving into 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. By July 2013 the number of mobile subscribers had reached 8.2 million for a penetration of 159%; of these subscribers a huge majority, 6.9 million, were signed up to 3G or 4G services. That means that just the 3G and 4G subscribers combined represented a penetration already well in excess of 100% by that stage. In other words, Singapore has more mobile broadband subscribers 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 will see a full national presence by end-2013.

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 as they provide useful models for how the wider market is likely to move.

Regionally, overall mobile broadband penetration was around 16% by early 2013. This represented a total of 640 million mobile broadband subscribers across the region and the number of mobile broadband subscribers was growing at around 40% annually. Of the markets in Asia, as well as Singapore, both South Korea and Japan had more mobile broadband subscribers than population coming into 2013.

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 accounting for a third of all mobile traffic. Leaders in mobile data usage, there is a 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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