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Digital transformation to drive tenfold rise in 5G mobile connections in Asia-Pacific

Survey finds APAC’s uptake of 5G will continue gathering pace until the end of the decade, but barriers in certain countries mean the region still has one of the largest usage gaps in the world

5G is a global phenomenon, but the Asia-Pacific (APAC) region has always been one of the key engine rooms for the industry. Research from the global trade association for the mobile industry has calculated that the region will account for over two-fifths (41%) of mobile connections by the end of 2030, up from 4% in 2022, with around 1.4 billion 5G connections.

The GSMA’s Mobile economy APAC 2023 report highlighted the key trends and forecasts shaping the mobile ecosystems of eight countries in the region Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Pakistan, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore and South Korea.

It noted that growth will be driven by a fall in the average price of 5G devices, rapid network expansion in many countries, and concerted efforts by leading governments to integrate mobile-enabled technologies into many aspects of society.

However, the annual mobile economy report also reveals that while mature markets, such as Australia, Japan, Singapore and South Korea are at the forefront of 5G mobile innovation, barriers continue to affect overall mobile access and usage in a number of other APAC countries.

Among the report’s key findings was the expectation that mobile subscribers will rise by 400 million between 2022 and 2030 to reach 2.11 million. This will mean mobile penetration will also rise to 70%, but still trail the global average of 73%. Smartphone adoption is projected to rise to 94% by 2030, an increase of 18% from 2022, driven by factors such as more affordable devices and improved digital literacy.

The GSMA believes that the mobile sector added $810bn of economic value to the APAC economy in 2022, just under 5% of APAC’s gross domestic product, and will reach almost $1tn ($990bn) by the end of the decade. 5G is set to add more than $133bn to the APAC economy in 2030 with services (42%) and manufacturing (34%) industries forecast to be the primary beneficiaries of 5G by 2030, driven by use cases such as smart cities, smart factories and the smart grid.

Moreover, the report finds that as 5G adoption grows, the monetisation imperative will escalate, along with the need to attract new customers and incentivise existing ones towards higher spend.

Extended reality (XR) could be one key driver for adoption with augmented and virtual reality having the potential to usher in a new age of immersive consumer experiences, benefitting from 5G’s advanced capabilities around speed, latency and capacity. 5G fixed wireless access services are providing further incremental revenue opportunities, particularly in areas with low fixed broadband penetration.

The report also showed that APAC has one of the fastest growing fintech industries, from massively mature markets in India to emerging ones such as in Vietnam and Indonesia. The GSMA said that continued growth in the fintech sector, especially following the Covid-19 pandemic, has improved the level of financial inclusion in the region, resulting in an increase in mobile money accounts.

Yet despite the growth and significant improvements, the research cautioned that almost half of the population in APAC still lack access to mobile internet (47%), with the region lagging behind other parts of the world, including Latin America, China and Eurasia. Poor digital skills, particularly among older populations, device and service affordability, and online safety concerns are some of the reasons holding back uptake. Moreover, while almost half of the population in Asia Pacific is now connected to the mobile internet (49%), 47% of the population who could access mobile services remain disconnected.

“As the mobile market spanning the world’s largest geographical area, APAC’s connectivity ecosystem is highly nuanced and consists of both pioneering mobile innovators and emerging markets.” said GSMA head of APAC Julian Gorman.

“The region has some of the fastest growing 5G markets in the world today, notably India, which is set to add tens of millions of 5G connections in 2023. However, across APAC as a whole we’re also seeing some of the world’s largest disparities in mobile internet usage.

“If we are to fully realise the digitally transformation mobile connectivity can bring, we need to establish a flexible, forward-looking regulatory and policy regime to support mobile network deployment and operations. This includes greater efforts to close the digital divide, particularly for women and vulnerable populations.”

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