Mobile data in SE Asia predicted to grow 75 percent by 2014

Analyst firm Frost & Sullivan yesterday released a new report predicting mobile data revenue in Southeast Asia will grow a staggering 75 percent over the next three years. Currently valued at US$7.1 billion, income from mobile data alone in the region is expected to hit US$12.4 billion by the close of 2013.

More good news for operators, for whom “plain old voice and text messaging services will no longer deliver larger revenue growth” (according to Frost’s Nicholas Khoo), mobile data revenues will grow to account for more than 40 of total mobile revenues. Today that figure is just 27.8 percent.

It’s clear that, for differing reasons, both the public and mobile operators need this growth.

With the cost of getting online the traditional way – with a PC and home internet connection – too high for many in Southeast Asian markets, mobile internet represents a convenient and often cost effective alternative.

In turn, with mobile penetration at a high rate across most of the region, operators must concentrate on developing new revenues streams as Frost’s Shi Min explains in the company press release:

Mobile broadband offers the clearest new connections growth and new revenue stream opportunity for operators. Countries like Singapore, Vietnam and Malaysia – already with mobile penetration of 137 percent, 127 percent (although half are reportedly inactive) and 108 percent, respectively, in 2009 – present the best potential for mobile broadband given the broadband- and Internet-receptiveness of these nations.

As I’ve often lamented people/companies not doing, Southeast Asia is a diverse region so mobile internet and data mean different things to different markets. Here’s Frost’s take on different mobile internet scenarios across the region:

 ‘mobile internet’ on existing and upgrading low- to mid-end devices delivering relevant ‘thin’ services and Internet service extensions

‘mobilised internet’ – on mid- to high-end smartphones offering new services and extensions around portability of the Internet experience and services

‘mobile broadband’ which adds mobility value to broadband through untethered access on a variety of portable devices

And in practice:

In developed markets, like Singapore, mobilised Internet and mobile broadband competition is likely to revolve around branding and value-capture based on lifestyle patterns, personalisation and convenience.

The Philippines, Indonesia and Thailand (each with mobile penetration of 80 percent and above; and low fixed-Internet and -broadband penetration), on the other hand, offer fertile environments for mobile and mobilised internet, giving users access to an almost transparent fixed internet experience on their devices.

Its clear Asia is a huge market for mobile internet, given the already discussed pricing, technology and infrastructure issues which prevent the rise of mass-market home internet which is visible in western markets.

As Southeast Asia has already witnessed, the rapid uptake in mobile internet and data usage has seen huge growth in social networking in the region, to the point that Southeast Asia dominates Facebook’s fastest growing market list.

Just a quick note on Thailand, which remains without public 3G services in places and is in real danger of being left further behind if it does not keep up and implement 3G for much improved mobile data and internet experiences.