The Asian region has continued to experience a generally stronger run of economic growth through 2005 and into 2006. The region, however, continues to share the concerns of the rest of the world about rising oil prices and the likely impact on the global economy. There is also a degree of anxiety about a slowdown in the China. This giant growth engine has been soaking up huge volumes of exports from its neighbours. If it starts showing signs of stalling, the reverberations will be felt right across Asia.
At the same time, it can be said that the growth has been somewhat inconsistent around the region and over the various market segments. Nevertheless, a healthy positive outlook generally pervades the market. The highlights coming into 2006:
Asia’s mobile market has continued its strong overall growth pattern;
3G mobile services are being rolled out in the major markets;
Internet access is rapidly moving from dial-up to broadband access;
Asia continues to be a global leader in broadband roll-out.
In looking at the Asian telecom market, it is impossible to avoid the impact of China. With its huge population and strongly developing economy, it is a powerful presence in the region. Having rapidly moved to become the biggest mobile market in the world, China’s mobile sector has continued to expand at a rate of almost 20% per annum. China had 400 million mobile subscribers by April 2006.
Japan has been a long-time global and regional telecommunications leader. It has a reputation for innovation, regularly adding value to the telecom market. Its leadership has embraced the application of wireless Internet access, with over 79 million mobile subscribers using either NTT DoCoMo’s i-Mode or one of the other proprietary products by early 2006.
Asia claims the world’s largest regional Internet market. With an estimated 375 million Internet users (a user penetration of 11%) by end-2004, Asia was maintaining its lead over Europe (292 million) and North America (227 million). Internet application in Asia continues to be led by the developed economies of the region ? Japan, Hong Kong, South Korea, Singapore and Taiwan. This group has been joined by China. With a penetration of 8.5%, China had a massive 111 million Internet users at end-2005.
In the area of broadband Internet access, South Korea has continued to be a world and regional leader with 70% of households having a broadband connection by end-2005. The two major technologies supporting broadband in Asia were Digital Subscriber Line (DSL) and cable modem. By March 2006, there were 153 million DSL subscribers and 76 million cable modem subscribers across the region.
Across the region, as the local economies improve and national regulators restructure their markets, operators have been facing increasingly competitive markets. Price cutting continues to be widespread, the offering of value added services has been expanding and innovative product promotion and packaging is popular. Working in such highly competitive markets, the Average Revenue Per User (ARPU) across the product range has inevitably suffered, but some equilibrium has been achieved. And, with the introduction of 3G services, an opportunity to grow ARPU has presented. Nevertheless, profit margins have been falling and operators need to be flexible in a quickly changing market.
Investment strategies have remained cautious throughout the region since the late 1990s. Both operators and equipment suppliers in the Asian telecom industry have been approaching their investment strategies in a circumspect manner. The oversupply of undersea cable capacity that became apparent three or four years ago had a particularly severe impact on investment plans. At the same time, after a period of sluggish growth, the satellite segment has seen a healthy series of new launches and signs that this will continue.
The Asian region has a wide spectrum of telecommunications and IT development. Countries can be found at both ends of this development spectrum. Whilst some of the world’s leading developers and implementers of technology are to be found in Asia, many countries in the region are still in the early stages of their information technology and telecommunications adoption. There is certainly a consistently strong awareness of the importance of telecommunications and information being demonstrated right across the region. The commercial significance of telecommunications is well recognised and, at the same time, the potential contribution to the social and cultural wellbeing of nations is also well appreciated. As a consequence, the growth potential in the Asian market remains extremely high.
The Asian telecommunications market was estimated to be worth around US$300 billion in 2006. The big new drivers are broadband and IP services, as well as ongoing growth in the mobile sector, particularly as value-added services come into the market. NGNs are also being rolled out by the regional heavyweights, with a strong move into triple play services.