Across Asia more than 3.8 billion mobile subscribers were being served by a large number of mobile networks heading into 2016. Whilst the overall growth rate in the region has moderated the sheer numbers remain impressive. Subscriber growth is seen to have eased to around 4%-5% per annum in recent years. Across the region many countries can claim subscriber penetrations of well over 150% by now. There has, however, been a shift away from the concentration by operators on simple subscriber growth. The emphasis has moved very much to next generation and value added services, with the operators busily upgrading networks, extending coverage and generally moving to improve service.

Not surprisingly the massive markets of China and India, with their huge populations, dominate the mobile market in Asia. By end-2015 these two countries alone accounted for over 35% and 27% overall market share in the Asia region respectively; in other words, a massive 62% combined.

Top 10 mobile markets in Asia – ranked by subscribers – 2012 and 2015
Country 2012 2015
China 1,112.1 1,350.0
India 864.7 1,000.0
Indonesia 281.2 325.0
Japan 141.1 158.0
Vietnam 131.7 142.0
Pakistan 120.1 143.0
Bangladesh 97.2 127.0
Philippines 102.0 120.0
Thailand 85.0 103.0
South Korea 53.6 59.0

(Source: BuddeComm based on industry data)

Note: Figures in italics are estimates

A good example of the way in which next generation networks have been progressively reshaping the mobile markets across the region can be found in Singapore. By July 2015 the number of mobile subscribers stood at 8.1 million for a penetration of 152%; most significantly, of these subscribers 7.9 million were signed up to 3G or 4G services. That meant that just the 3G and 4G subscribers combined represented a population penetration already well in excess of 100% by that stage. In other words, Singapore had far more mobile broadband subscriptions than population.

Importantly, 4G/LTE already has a significant presence in the Singapore market. The three mobile operators all launched a form of 4G back in 2012 and have since been rapidly expanding their coverage at a rate that effectively saw a full national presence by end-2013. By mid-2015 the number of 4G services made up 46% of the total mobile subscriber base, already almost eclipsing the 51% held by 3G. Not surprisingly 2G services had virtually disappeared.

Singapore - mobile subscribers - 2G, 3G and 4G, prepaid and postpaid – July 2015

Category Subscribers Percentage of total subscriber base

2G subscriptions
Postpaid 179,900 2%
Prepaid 76,500 1%
Total 2G subscribers 256,400 3%
3G subscriptions 0%
Postpaid 2,726,700 33%
Prepaid 1,436,100 18%
Total 3G subscribers 4,162,800 51%
4G subscriptions 0%
Postpaid 3,259,100 40%
Prepaid 464,600 6%
Total 4G subscribers 3,723,700 46%
Total subscribers (2G+3G+4G) 8,142,900 100%

(Source: BuddeComm based on IDA data)

As the Asian mobile market continues to grow both in bulk subscriber numbers, next generation subscribers and value added services, it remains a market based largely on voice services for the time being. As already noted some markets in Asia have moved rapidly to mobile broadband and advanced data services but the predominant service in the majority of the region’s markets is mobile voice for the moment.

For more information see - Asia - Mobile Infrastructure