Asia Pacific Region is Now Home to Half the World's Mobile Subscribers

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The Asia Pacific region now accounts for half of the world's mobile subscribers and will remain one of the world's fastest growing mobile markets through 2020 and beyond, says the GSMA.

According to a GSMA report, there were 1.7 billion unique mobile subscribers in the Asia Pacific region at the end of 2013, accounting for half of the 3.4 billion global subscriber base. The number of Asia Pacific subscribers is expected to grow by 5.5 per cent a year (CAGR) until 2020, reaching 2.4 billion. Only Sub-Saharan African is expected to grow at a faster rate during the period. Total mobile connections in Asia Pacific stood at 3.4 billion at the end of 2013 and are forecast to increase to 4.8 billion by 2020.

"Asia Pacific is at the forefront of mobile subscriber growth and service innovation, reflecting its position as home to a diverse range of markets and people," said Anne Bouverot, Director General of the GSMA.

A Diverse Mobile Region

The majority of Asia Pacific mobile subscribers are currently concentrated in four major markets: China, India, Japan and Indonesia, in order of size. Together, these account for three quarters of the region's subscribers and over a third of the global subscriber base.

China, the world's largest mobile market, was home to 630 million unique mobile subscribers at the end of 2013, representing about 46 per cent of the country's population. According to GSMA Intelligence research, there were 1.13 billion active mobile connections in China at the end of 2013, which means millions of Chinese subscribers use more than one SIM card or device; there were 1.79 SIM cards per unique subscriber in China at the end of 2013.

The Asia Pacific region incorporates a diverse range of mobile markets, from highly advanced 4G 'Digital Pioneers', including Australia, Japan, Singapore and South Korea to developing 'Discoverer' markets, such as India, where operators are focusing on building-out networks to rural areas and offering affordable mobile broadband services.

With 1.7 billion mobile customers in Asia Pacific, subscriber penetration at the end of 2013 was 43 per cent compared to a global average of around 50 per cent. Subscriber penetration is above 90 per cent of the population in markets such as Japan and below 15 per cent in markets such as Myanmar, further underscoring the diverse nature of the region.

Mobile Driving Internet Usage in China

A GSMA Intelligence research note issued today reveals that 500 million Chinese citizens have subscribed to mobile internet services at the end of 2013. The remaining 130 million Chinese subscribers used their mobile connections only for placing voice calls and sending text messages. It is estimated that the total number of Chinese internet users stood at just over 600 million in 2013, meaning that more than 80 per cent access the internet via mobile. This demonstrates the critical role that mobile networks play in connecting the population to the internet.

Over two thirds (69%) of Chinese mobile internet subscribers accessed internet services via mobile broadband networks, with the remainder using 2G, according to the research. Chinese mobile operators are driving mobile internet usage by introducing a growing range of affordable mobile broadband tariffs and subsidised devices.

Operator Investments Fuelling the Asia Pacific Economy

The mobile industry contributed US$ 864 billion to Asia Pacific's gross domestic product (GDP) in 2013, equivalent to 4.7 per cent of the total. The industry directly supported 3.7 million jobs and contributed USD82 billion to public funding in the region, even before considering regulatory and spectrum fees. By 2020, mobile is forecast to be an even greater driver of Asia Pacific's economy, contributing over 6.9 per cent to the region's GDP and directly supporting more than 6.1 million jobs by this point.

The positive social and economic contribution of the mobile ecosystem to the Asia Pacific economy is supported by substantial investments in new infrastructure by regional mobile operators. Over the last six years, capital expenditure (capex) by Asia Pacific operators totalled USD430 billion. Operators are forecast to invest an additional USD730 billion (capex) in the period between 2014 and 2020.

Migrating to Mobile Broadband

Rapid subscriber migration to 3G/4G mobile broadband networks is occurring across the Asia Pacific region, both in advanced and emerging markets. For Asia Pacific as a whole, just over a quarter of the 3.4 billion mobile connections in the region at the end of 2013 were 3G, while three per cent of connections were running 4G. However, these figures are forecast to rise to 34 per cent and 28 per cent, respectively, of the 4.8 billion total connections expected by 2020.

South Korea is the world's most advanced 4G market and is the only country to date to have covered 100 per cent of its population by 4G networks. At the end of 2013, over half of all mobile connections in South Korea were running on 4G networks, the highest 4G penetration rate of any country worldwide.

Mobile operators in China were awarded 4G licences in December 2013 and are now building 4G networks across the country.

Recent research from GSMA Intelligence indicated that the take-up of 4G services in China is likely to be at twice the rate of the earlier move to 3G. It is forecast that there will be almost 900 million 4G mobile connections in the country by the end of 2020, up from around 100 million in 2014.

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