Smartphones, tablets key to mobile broadband in Asia say telcos

Smartphones remain Asia’s biggest generator of mobile broadband usage according to a telecom industry survey from Ovum, which also revealed tablet computers as the second highest driver securing 25% of responses.

It is important to note that the research, conducted in December 2010 and January 2011, polled 178 telecoms executives from across Asia-Pacific so while answers may not mirror public opinion there are an indicator of where the industry will go and where it sees itself right now.

More details come from ZDNet Asia:

The mobile broadband industry survey revealed that 50 percent of respondents identified smartphones as the major driver of mobile broadband traffic in Asia, while tablet devices came in second at 25 percent. Netbooks and laptops, which topped the list last year, fell to third this year, it noted.

“Operators view tablet devices as a more natural fit than laptops or netbooks as they have the same lifecycle, operating system and data model as smartphones,” Nicole McCormick, senior analyst at Ovum, said in the report.

There is no doubt that tablets are preferred by operators as they are more similar to smartphones and, as inherently mobile devices less suited to being a primary household computer – compared to laptops and netbooks – they have greater earning potential for operators who can utilise wireless networks and data-based services alongside, or in place of, mobile phone tariffs.

However, it remains to be seen if tablets will take-off in Asia as the telecom industry hopes.

Price remains a big issue for smartphones amongst most of the continent, let alone tablets which are similarly unaffordable to many and yet more limited in their usage.

There is little to argue with the findings around mobile broadband usage.

From ZDNet Asia again:

With regard to activities that will spur user demand for mobile broadband, the survey reported that social networking headed the list.

Included in the survey for the first time this year, social networking was identified by 31 percent of respondents as applications that will drive the majority of traffic growth, while video clocked at 30 percent and Web browsing at 17 percent to complete the top three applications.

It is becoming a cliche to say that social network has exploded across Asia but growth led by Twitter and Facebook has been phenomenal in the region, and there is still more to come as Ovum’s results suggests. This is an area where Asian operators are using flexible and innovative tariffs to snare new users and increase average revenue per user (ARPU):

“We particularly like the Philippines model of charging a daily rate for unlimited access to social network,” stated the report. “In developed markets, operators could charge a small monthly fee for unlimited access to social networking services, rather than offering these on a free unlimited basis for big- and small-screen users.”

Teleocom operators in Thailand run similar deals though it is interesting to see that many do not support mobile internet browsing, instead offering unlimited and metered usage of social networks – like Twitter or Facebook – or access to the hugely popular BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) service.

The report very much reflects this focus with just 17% of telecom execs polled rating mobile internet browsing as the chief driver of data, with social networking (31%) and video (30%) seen as more influential.

Of course, the caveat to all of this is that Asia’s mobile scene is diverse both in terms of user behaviour (as blogged here) and market maturity, which makes the survey results more applicable to some markets ahead of others.