This market report provides an overview of the Mobile Data and Wireless Broadband Market segment across the various markets of Asia. Some 29 Asian countries are covered in the report. It is noted that the amount of information offered is obviously dependent on the relative size of the market in each of the respective countries. The coverage in the report also results in some segment overlap as we see increased convergence in the mobile data and wireless broadband markets.
Mobile data services in AsiaWith some 2.1 billion Asians using mobile phones going into 2010, the region’s mobile markets offer huge potential for mobile data services.
The growth of wireless Internet in Asia is being driven by competition in the market place and by the advent of 3G and 3.5G services. Market competition has been driving handset prices and airtime tariffs downward, thus opening up mobile services to wider adoption. The rate of adoption of wireless Internet has started to rise with the overall increase in mobile penetration together with networks being progressively upgraded to next generation platforms. While 3G licensing and the ongoing launch of 3G services in Asia has certainly been promoting the growth of wireless data services, 3G has also been providing opportunities for both wireless access and content providers in domestic markets. In South Asia, particularly, 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. Regional public networks based on Mobitex technology were established in Singapore, Indonesia and South Korea. Another form of mobile data, the DataTAC network, was made available in Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand, with network trials in South Korea, Japan and China. The DataTAC networks established in Asia were more extensive than the corresponding networks in either Europe or the US.
An example of widespread adoption of a particular mobile data service has been the SMS capability of GSM and other digital cellular technologies. SMS, which allows the sending and receiving of basic text messages, became very popular throughout Asia, with remarkable growth being experienced 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 in the ability to offer more Value-Added Services (VAS) and, in particular, access to the Internet. A number of technologies are competing for the region’s mobile Internet market. In Singapore, Hong Kong, South Korea, and a number of other countries, in an effort to chase this market, offerings based on the Wireless Application Protocol (WAP) standard were tried. Apart from South Korea, however, WAP failed to claim any significant share of the market.
In Japan, by contrast, 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. In fact, mobile subscribers (93 million) accessing the Internet almost equal the fixed line users (94 million). Another system that has supported mobile data, the GPRS, grew out of GSM. Labelled as a 2.5G technology, it has been adopted in a significant number of Asian markets.
The widespread adoption of HSDPA, a new generation (3.5G) mobile telephone protocol, is also noted throughout Asia. It is an evolution of the Wideband WCDMA 3G standard, designed to increase the available data rate by a factor of 5 or more. In effect, it extends the capabilities of WCDMA in the same way that EV-DO extended CDMA 2000, allowing higher data capacity (up to 14.4Mb/s). SK Telecom launched a commercial HSDPA network in 25 major cities in South Korea in 2006, offering customers what it claimed was the world’s first commercial HSDPA-enabled mobile handset. This was followed by SmarTone-Vodafone launching a system in Hong Kong in 2006, providing a data speed of 1.8Mb/s. Others have quickly followed.
KTF began rolling out an upgraded HSUPA network in 2007, for faster data transmission to attract more users of 3G mobile services. HSUPA supports upload data rates of up to 5.76Mb/s, which is 15 times faster than HSDPA, which itself is an advancement of 3G wireless technology. KTF launched high-speed uplink packet access, or HSUPA, in five major cities, including the capital Seoul.
Japan’s four main mobile operators, NTT DoCoMo, KDDI (au), Softbank Mobile and eMobile - plan to invest up to ¥1 trillion ($10 billion) into so-called ‘3.9G’ mobile services, offering end users the prospect of even better and faster options than they have today. Known as 3.9G in Japan, the new networks will use frequencies in the 2,010-2,025MHz range for LTE technology. 3.9G performance is roughly comparable with fibre-optic networks and from 2010 a number of domestic carriers intend to utilise their existing 3G infrastructure, on which the providers spent ¥ 5 trillion, to keep 3.9G rollout costs to a minimum.
Asia - WCDMA 3G subscribers by market - 2009
Country Subscribers (million)
Hong Kong 3.75
North Korea 0.10
South Korea 25.60
(Source: BuddeComm based on industry data)
Wireless broadband in AsiaAfter a somewhat tentative start, wireless broadband access in its various forms is starting to take hold in Asia. This has seen a flurry of activity as operators rush to acquire the necessary frequency licences. The sector had earlier experienced problems involving unreliable equipment and network design faults. These have become things of the past.
The challenge still facing the industry, however, is to establish viable business models that allow wireless to compete with the more established service offerings - DSL and cable modem platforms in the case of fixed wireless broadband and next generation mobile telephony platforms in the case of mobile wireless broadband.
Wireless broadband systems are expected to eventually become a key feature of the broadband access landscape across Asia. Apart from WiFi and WiMAX platforms, wireless technologies include LMDS and MMDS.
For some years now, despite high equipment prices and security issues inhibiting adoption, wireless broadband services have been appearing in a piecemeal fashion across the region, notably in airport lounges, transport hubs and hotels, particularly offering mobile travellers immediate broadband connectivity.
As with other high technology services, it is the developed economies that have led the way in this segment of the telecom market in Asia. At the same time, however, wireless broadband technologies are certain to prove increasingly popular in the developing markets as they offer a powerful means of by-passing the incumbent’s infrastructure, especially the ‘last mile’ and also accessing customers where the incumbent’s infrastructure finds it difficult. These possibilities will become even more attractive as the cost of equipment falls with more roll-outs occurring and the market demand volume rising. This pattern has already started to emerge.
While there has been some activity in the providing of WiMAX networks, the real test will be the advent of mobile WiMAX. The initial roll-out of mobile WiMAX in Asia has begun but it has been a cautious start. The technology 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.
It should be noted that gathering statistics for broadband subscribers in Asia has become difficult with the advent of wireless services and hotspots. One phenomenon that makes it difficult is the practice of service ‘bundling’ by operators. Korea Telecom, for example, had a large number of WiFi subscribers, approximately two-thirds of whom were ‘bundled’ as subscribers on the operator’s DSL service.