Report: How mobile phones are used across Asia

I’m often very vocal about the lack of quality, reliable data on digital in Asia so I’m always interested in innovative studies such as the TNS Mobile Life study, the results of which have been published online this week. I’m still digging through the data but have been intrigued to see data around the mobile habits of eight of Asia’s biggest digital markets.

But first, a caveat, in TNS’s own words, the data comes from interviews with 34,000 odd mobile phone owners from a diverse range of 43 countries worldwide, making the results interesting but by no means a reflection on each, or any, markets as a whole.

Disclaimer out of the way, the data below looks at what services mobile users in each market use whilst tracking at what times they are most used across the course of a typical day.

I’ve tried to group similar markets together to help illustrate points but, with any market comparable head to head on the TNS site – which included a range of international countries not strictly Asia – there are all manner of comparisons that can be made.

A local Asian strategy is key

The key takeaway from the data is just how mobile usage varies hugely across the continent. While many at corporate level, or based outside of the region, may look for an ‘Asian strategy’, it is clear to see that a one-size-fits-all approach will have limited value such are the cultural and behavioural differences across Asia markets (and the below is merely a snippet from a small number of markets, albeit they high yielding ones.)

Tackling digital on a local level, with regional ties, is the single most effective way to engage digital markets as the below graphics and takeaway points illustrate.

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China & Hong Kong

Key points – Hong Kong

– Mobile activity peaks around the commute in Hong Kong, with personal entertainment – gaming, music and web browsing – key activities during downtime while travelling to work

– SMS usage peters out in the evening as Hong Kong users relax home, perhaps using their computer to communicate instead

Key points – China

– Mobile internet peaks in the evening, perhaps indicative of more users preferring mobile to fixed-line, or less access to fixed-line internet at home

– Gaming peaks in the evening, suggesting that, for many in China, their mobile is a primary gaming portal used at home and not just to fill time when out and about

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India & Taiwan

Key points – India

– SMS  is the most popular mobile activity although music and gaming usage – alongside mobile internet surfing – remain constant for much of the day

– Mobile social networking peaks during the afternoon, although not at the expense of SMS suggesting that many reliable the mid-afternoon boredom with Facebook or Twitter

– There is a noticeable peak for music playing on mobile during the morning commute

Key points – Taiwan

– The morning commute triggers peak communication for Taiwan’s mobile users

– Mobile internet and mobile social networking remain constant for much of the day suggesting that Taiwanese netizens access the web and social networks through fixed/PC-based internet at home, using their mobile when on the go.

– The slight rise in gaming and music usage despite no mobile internet peak suggests that many mobile users own smarphones which they use for gaming and music storage, while internet surfing is done through a PC

Japan & South Korea

Key points – Japan

– General mobile phone usage is fairly constant across the day – demonstrating mature consumer behaviour

– Dinner ettiquette sees significantly reduced usage of all services on mobile for evening meal times

– In the evenings, Japanese mobile users are most likely to listen to music on their phone than any other activity

– Limited mobile social networking takes place

– Mobile email is more popular than SMS through the entire day – reflecting Japanese mobile phone culture

Going into more detail on “Japanese mobile culture” and SMS, it is worth noting the following comment from Gen Kanai:

“In Japan, SMS is basically not used as it is only really supported within a carrier (i.e. Softbank user to Softbank user.) For mobile messaging, it is email in Japan, not SMS.”

Key points – Korea

– SMS remains by far the most popular activity across every part of the day

– Personal entertainment – gaming and music – are most popular during the morning commute

– Mobile social networking most popular during the morning

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Indonesia & Philippines

Key points – Indonesia

– Indonesia’s most likely to use SMS during the morning commute, late afternoon and in the evening commute

– All mobile activity low during dinner time

– Mobile social networking and mobile internet usage highest in evening, suggesting that for many mobile is the primary internet access point at home/away from work

– Music usage peaks in evening suggesting few ratio of Indonesians own MP3 players and many have phones capable of music storage

Key points – Philippines

– SMS most popular mobile service throughout the day, particularly during the morning commute

– Email, mobile internet highest in evening suggesting many use mobile as primary internet access device

– Rate of mobile social networking remains low across most of the day

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Singapore & Malaysia

Key points – Malaysia

– SMS is most popular mobile service during most of the day, particularly during morning commute and lunchtime – suggesting Singaporeans like to connect during free time while at work, not while they are working

– No noticeable peak of usage of mobile during morning commute to work, though noticeable peak occurs in the evening

– Comparatively high usage of email across the day

– Mobile internet usage strong across most of the day, mobile social networking usage remains constant if not spectacularly high

Key points – Singapore

– Commuters make great use of SMS, location-based service and personal entertainment – music, games, internet – during downtime of morning commute

– Mobile internet usage remains constant through most of the day although mobile social networking noticeably peaks during the evening

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Thailand and Vietnam

Key points – Thailand

– Use of mobile for music remains relatively constant throughout the day, peaking during the evening

– Noticeable lack of activity during dinner time in the evening, sandwiched between high activity during evening commute and evening activities

– Biggest peak of activity occurs during the evening commute home with mobile internet usage exceeding SMS and music/gaming

– Gaming on par or exceeding music usage during most of the day

– Social network usage is proportional high versus mobile internet surfing compared to other markets

Key points – Vietnam

– SMS the most popular service during the day

– Email comparatively popular versus other markets

– Music and gaming are two biggest activities during the evening, during which time mobile internet usage is also high suggesting many use their phone as the primary access point for internet and personal entertainment

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The data is very interesting and provides suggestions of behaviour activities in markets across much of the day, with evening activity particular telling of many mobile phone users behaviour – using their device for personal entertainment as well as internet surfing in many cases.

To give greater context and an international comparison here is the activity for the US and the UK – two of the world’s most commonly referenced western markets – below.


Key points:

– SMS remains the biggest usage in both markets

– No commuting peak – though interestingly location-based services peak here – while there is a definite lull during dinner time in the evening

– No spike in mobile internet usage or mobile social networking in the evening suggests that other platform, i.e. computers, tablets etc are preferred (and available) terminals for the web

– No great peak in music or gaming activity in the evening shows that other non-mobile entertainment is used, though a peak in music during commuting time clearly shows that many do use their phone for music

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There is an awful lot of data to pick through here, and I’ll be doing my best to publish a more general, trend-based write-up covering the most salient points over the next week or so. But for now, this information is interesting enough.