Mobile data and wireless broadband services across Asia being driven by FttX, Wi-Fi offload, 3G, LTE and high smartphone adoption

With some three 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 exploiting its huge potential for mobile data/wireless broadband services.

Growth in mobile wireless internet across Asia has been largely driven by highly competitive markets combined with the arrival of new generation mobile technologies. With 3G and 3G+ platforms spreading rapidly throughout the region, cheaper handset prices and lower airtime tariffs have combined to support the even wider adoption of mobile broadband services.

The developed markets in the region, such as Japan, South Korea, Hong Kong, Singapore and Taiwan, have positioned themselves well to exploit mobile data and broadband wireless opportunities and lead the rest of the region into the next generations of mobile applications. As 3G moves through 3.5G towards 4G/LTE and speeds increase, as service improves and as content providers offer more, we are seeing exponential growth in data usage occurring in the leading markets. Hong Kong is a good example of the explosion in mobile data.

Mobile data usage in Hong Kong – 2002 – 2012

Year (Dec)


Per 2.5G + 3G/4G subscriber


2002 42,000 0.2
2003 247,200 0.3
2004 2,330,400 1.7
2005 4,603,700 2.5
2006 9,076,700 4.1
2007 32,301,500 11.0
2008 133,145,700 38.1
2009 638,388,700 127.6
2010 1,847,525,600 295.6
2011 4,133,960,500 508.7
2012 (Mar) 5,045,085,150 588.1

(Source: BuddeComm based on OFCA data)

Note: Figures are for December usage each year unless indicated otherwise.

While 3G licensing and the ongoing launch of 3G services in Asia has certainly been providing the basis for growth in wireless data services, 3G has also been providing opportunities for both wireless access and content providers in domestic markets. InSouth 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. An example of the early widespread adoption of a particular mobile data service in the region has been 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 building customer bases but in the ability to offer more Value-Added Services (VAS) and, most importantly, efficient and effective access to the internet.

An early push in this direction saw Japan’s 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.

More recent mobile data development in Asia has essentially been built on the 3G and 3G+ technology platforms. 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.

An example of the way in which 3G has been progressively reshaping the mobile markets across the region can be found in Singapore. By July 2012 the number of mobile subscribers had reached 7.9 million for a penetration of 152%; of these subscribers a huge majority, 6.2 million, were signed up to 3G services. That means that just the 3G subscribers alone represented a penetration in excess of 100%. Or, in other words, Singapore had more mobile broadband subscribers than population. We note another big change when we compare 3G with 2G; there has been a major shift from the high level of prepaid 2G subscribers to the postpaid subscriptions for 3G. Even though operators in Singapore are offering prepaid 3G services, a solid 65% of 3G subscribers in that market are in fact postpaid.

Regionally, mobile broadband penetration was around 11% by early 2012. This represented a total of 460 million mobile broadband subscribers across the region; of the markets in Asia, as well as Singapore, South Korea had more mobile broadband subscribers than population; and coming into 2012 Japan was not far behind on 90% mobile broadband penetration.

Almost all markets in Asia had effectively witnessed the licensing and launch of 3G networks by 2012. (Thailand, the last of the significant markets in region to introduce 3G, was continuing to have regulatory and licensing problems.)

In the context of mobile broadband services, mention must be made of 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, it has been a cautious start and significant rollouts have been limited to just a few markets. The technology still 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. Pakistan, Bangladesh and Malaysia are WiMAX markets to watch.

Key operators in the region have been 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 WiFi 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.

Coming into 2012 Singapore was following on the path of South Korea (and Hong Kong) in adopting initiatives to enable 3G traffic to be more easily offloaded to WiFi. A major capacity upgrade to the Singapore’s free public WiFi network, Wireless@SG, was set to commence together with a plan to enable mobile devices to switch seamlessly between the mobile and Wireless@SG networks.

For detailed information, table of contents and pricing see: Asia – Mobile Data, Wireless Broadband Market and Forecasts


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