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There are an estimated 5.24 billion people that have some sort of mobile device, or 67.4% of the global population. In this article, we examine mobile penetration data in Asia, specifically South Asia and Southeast Asia, including smartphone penetration, future data predictions, and the implications of this technology for the region. Mobile penetration varies widely across Asia, which is the world’s most populous continent, and it is therefore impossible to view the continent as a whole in terms of mobile penetration and other factors. Countries within the continent are at very different stages of digital and infrastructure development: 5G is a reality for countries like Korea and Japan, while in other parts of Asia 4G is predicted to account for 70% of connections even through 2025. Below we highlight regional differences of mobile penetration and future predictions for the growth of mobile in Asia.

The Challenge of Gathering Mobile Penetration Data 

Although the mobile penetration rate in Asia has been increasing dramatically, it can be difficult to get accurate mobile subscriber and user numbers for the region. There are multiple factors that contribute to this difficulty including individuals having access to a phone they do not own, or people owning multiple SIM cards. An accurate count of subscribers in rural areas can be particularly challenging because counting non-users face-to-face may be impossible due to time and money. To get accurate data, some mobile penetration statistics rely in some part on numbers provided from mobile operators, as well as independent research projects. All of these factors can help account for the variation between different research sources. 

Current Mobile Penetration Rates in South Asia and Southeast Asia

To fully understand the data on mobile penetration rates in Asia, we must take a more granular view and consider statistics from specific parts of the region. Countries in South Asia and Southeast Asia provide a snapshot of this rapidly changing region.

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Mobile Penetration in South Asia

Mobile penetration in South Asia varies between countries, with India having the highest reported access. The penetration rate in India was at 55% in 2018 and is projected to reach 63% by 2025. A 2018 Pew Research Center study looking at smartphone penetration found India to have a 40% rate of mobile phone ownership with a further 24% owning smartphones. Another source reported 26% smartphone penetration in 2018. While estimations may vary slightly, all show a strong growth trend.

A 2019 GSMA study on mobile internet specifically found the mobile internet penetration rate in India to be at around 35% the previous year. Bangladesh, the 5th largest mobile market in the region, had a mobile internet penetration rate of 22% in 2018 with Pakistan at 24%. Overall in South Asia, 33% of the population is connected to mobile internet, a number which has almost doubled since 2014. During these four years, an additional 50 million people have also gained access to mobile broadband coverage. 

Mobile penetration across South Asia will likely continue to grow in the coming years. South Asia has some of the most affordable access to coverage worldwide. Additionally,  significant infrastructure investments by 4G providers over the years can partially account for the growth in mobile penetration. 

Mobile Penetration in Southeast Asia

The countries in Southeast Asia have seen incredible growth in mobile penetration over the last few years. GSMA highlights Indonesia as an emerging digital economy giant and one of the top ten most improved countries since 2014. In 2017, there were 176 million unique mobile subscribers in Indonesia, which equated to a 64% penetration rate. This number is estimated to grow to a 69% penetration rate by 2025. Due to infrastructure growth, affordability of monthly data plans, increased higher education, and development of local content 25 million people started using mobile internet in one year. Two thirds of the country now own a mobile device. 

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The  2018 Pew Research Center study on smartphone penetration reported 42% of the population had smartphones, with another 28% of people owning another type of mobile phone. A recent GSMA study calculates smartphone connection at 73% of total connections in Q3 of 2019. Young adults are particularly quick to adopt this technology. Only 17% of young adults (18-34yrs) owned a smartphone in 2013, but the Pew study cites a growth to 66% by 2018. 

The Philippines is another area in Southeast Asia that has seen significant growth in mobile penetration rates over the last several years. Startups are driving digital innovation in the country. A recent GSMA report on the mobile economy indicated 2018 mobile subscriber penetration at 64% of the population. Specifically for smartphones, the Pew Research Center cited 55% of adults are reported owning a smartphone, with another 22% owning another type of mobile phone. Of this 55% of adults who owned a smartphone, the largest percentage of these (74%) were young people ages 18-34. 

What is next for mobile penetration in Asia?

Mobile technology is increasingly essential for innovative businesses and international trade. Unsurprisingly, economic success is directly correlated to phone ownership. As a country’s mobile phone penetration increases, the economy becomes more successful. One commonality across Asia and other emerging regions is that younger people are more likely to have access to smartphones

We should continue to examine trends in mobile penetration, as well as smartphone and mobile internet adoption while simultaneously not discounting those who do not have access. GeoPoll leverages the growing power of mobile connectivity, while also utilizing face-to-face research modes in certain situations. We are able to reach all types of mobile devices and connectivity levels through SMS, voice calls, and web-based methodologies. 

For more information on our mobile methodologies, please contact us today.