The Asia Pacific region had 1.8 billion unique subscribers and nearly 3.8 billion connections (including M2M) as of the first quarter of 2015. It dominates the global mobile industry, already accounting for half of the world’s unique subscribers and connections. This dominance is expected to grow as the region’s subscriber growth continues at a faster pace than the rest of the world, adding 600 million new subscribers by 2020.
Although Asia-Pacific is home to some of the world’s most advanced mobile markets, overall penetration rates continue to lag the global average. The region contains a number of populous but relatively underpenetrated markets. Connecting the still unconnected populations across the region remains one of the major challenges over the coming years.
Many markets are seeing rapid technological migrations towards mobile broadband networks and smartphones. Asia Pacific will add around 1.6 billion smartphone connections by 2020, over half of the global total. This in turn is driving strong growth in mobile data traffic, with a tenfold increase forecast by 2019. Mobile operators in the region will generate recurring revenues of over US$2.2 trillion out to 2020, with growth at a CAGR of 2.6%. Total operator capital investments over the period are expected to total over US$600 billion.
In 2014, mobile technologies and services generated 4.7% of the GDP in Asia Pacific, a contribution that amounted to over US$1 trillion of economic value across 50 different countries and territories. In 2014 the mobile ecosystem directly provided employment to 6.5 million people in Asia Pacific, rising to nearly 8 million people by 2020. In addition, the industry makes a substantial contribution to the funding of the public sector with approximately U$130 billion contributed in 2014 in the form of general taxation, rising to over US$150 billion by 2020.
Around a third of the population across the region currently use mobile devices to access the internet, equivalent to around 1.3 billion individuals. Mobile networks are playing a key role in including unconnected populations in the digital revolution. Mobile internet access in Asia Pacific will increase further by 2020, by which point around half of the population will have mobile internet access.
Innovation in the mobile ecosystem is happening at many levels across Asia Pacific, from hardware to services. Over 90% of handset models released in 2014 came from Asian-based vendors. This broad and diverse region includes more developed markets that are leading the way in the deployment of the advanced mobile services, and more recently voice over LTE (VoLTE); as well as developing markets that are using mobile as a platform to broaden access to essential services such as education, healthcare and financial services. Mobile is at the heart of the new digital ecosystem and is helping to create new digital societies.
As industries converge and evolve, regulatory frameworks need to be sufficiently flexible to enable both citizens and companies to harness the capabilities of mobile technologies and services. A rigid regulatory approach could shackle the digital economy and squander the opportunities presented by advances in mobile technologies. Policy makers and regulators need to pursue further international harmonisation to ensure that businesses and their customers can benefit from international economies of scale.
As they formulate a digital strategy, public policy makers need to take a long-term view. Rather than simply reacting to events, policy makers now have the opportunity to lead the development of a digital society.