Mobile broadband approaches full regional reach in Asia-Pacific

Research from GSMA, the global mobile industry trade association, shows mobile broadband networks are now accessible to 96% of the population in Asia-Pacific, with operators set to spend almost $260bn on their networks by 2030.

The research report, Digital societies in Asia-Pacific: Harnessing emerging technology to advance digital nations, assesses the role of emerging technologies in the aspirations of APAC countries to become digital nations.

Among the key findings was that efforts by countries in Asia-Pacific to become digital nations are coinciding with emerging technologies moving towards the mainstream. The GSMA noted that, to this end, efforts will involve integrating digital technologies and services into every sector to build resilient economies with finite resources, and achieve sustainable and inclusive growth.

This inclusivity is seen in delivering satellite-based data services across the region, in particular to those locations that have been traditionally underserved by suppliers, such as rural locations with difficult terrain and remote islands.

The report noted that mobile operators are exploring partnerships and other innovative solutions to extend coverage to what it called “the final frontier”. The GSMA stated that as the prospects rise for satellites to help close the coverage gap, partnerships with mobile operators will be crucial to realising the opportunity.

Among the examples cited are Optus and SpaceX, which announced in July 2023 a deal to provide mobile connectivity using Starlink satellites, with a long-term plan to cover 100% of Australia. It also noted Telstra and New Zealand-based operators Spark and One NZ signing similar agreements with SpaceX. In December 2022, KDDI announced that the first of more than 1,000 mobile towers in Japan to use Starlink has started commercial operation in Hatsushima, a remote island in Sagami Bay.

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The report also found that there was a growing emphasis on accelerating mobile internet adoption and usage, especially among vulnerable population groups, such as the elderly and those in low-income brackets. It noted that around 47% of the population in Asia-Pacific live in areas already covered by mobile broadband networks but do not subscribe to a mobile internet service.

Barriers to adoption include a lack of affordability and digital skills, and concerns around online safety. Several governments are taking steps to address such barriers. In India, Reliance Jio has collaborated with the GSMA’s Mobile for Development programme to roll out a digital skills initiative to train women in rural areas and those from low-income groups to help them with greater digital access and adoption.

With high-speed connectivity fundamental to development, mobile broadband networks were seen as the primary channel for most people to get online. With mobile operators in the APAC region set to spend $259bn on their networks between 2023 and 2030, the majority going towards 5G technology, the GSMA believes there is an opportunity for policymakers to complement this commitment by reducing the fiscal burden on the mobile industry, ensuring access to spectrum under the right conditions, and implementing other measures to support the timely and efficient roll-out of much-needed advanced network infrastructure.

Indeed, as digital technologies and services play an increasingly central role in the economies of Asia-Pacific countries, the GSMA highlighted the vital need for a whole-of-government approach and international collaboration, in view of the cross-sector and cross-border implications of digital policies and initiatives.

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“This year, we celebrated 50 years since the first mobile phone call was made. Today, our networks cover 95% of the world’s population, serving 5.4 billion unique customers. As Web 3.0, AI (artificial intelligence) and intelligent connectivity dominate global conversations, connectivity lies at the heart of it all,” said Mats Granyrd, director general of the GSMA.

“Our industry is poised for another strategic shift towards future-facing tech communications companies where everyone and everything is connected through our platforms. As digital transformation accelerates, the importance of differentiated ICT capabilities that closely combine IT and CT is increasing,” he added.

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