Telenor Group: mobile Internet growth widespread but reports find startling preference and technology gaps across Asia

BANGKOK, Dec. 4 (nsnewswire) — Insights released by the Telenor Group in Asia (today) Wednesday – based on TNS’s annual global Mobile Life study – show that emerging Asia is surprisingly varied when it comes to telecommunications development. For instance, while smartphones are just beginning to enter affordable territory for more of India (market penetration is at just 15 percent), Malaysia is fast becoming one of the world’s mobile leader as it closes in on 80 percent smartphone ownership.

Telenor sees this variation as an opportunity for mobile service providers and device-makers to diversified business approaches in the region.

Drawing on 38,000 people from 43 countries, the TNS global Mobile Life study uncovered major mobile connectivity differences in countries across emerging Asia. Those studied included representative ratios of the population from 16-60 years of age, both mobile phone owners and non-owners. In Telenor’s Asia markets, the surveyed were asked in online and face-to-face interviews to provide information and agree to a series of questions related to the role of mobile technology in their lives. In Thailand, the sample size was 1,000; in Malaysia, 500; and in India, 2,980. While Bangladesh was not part of the study, Telenor views the opportunities and insights TNS uncovered as applicable for the Bangladeshi market, such as increasing smartphone penetration, keeping devices and services affordable and the high potential of mobile finance.

“One thing our Asian markets do have in common is that they are ready for the most advanced mobile technology and fastest connectivity available in Asia. While we’re working to connect more people in the rural areas of our markets with basic feature phone connectivity, we’re also committed to helping them develop advanced telecommunications networks that will place them on par with the rest of developed Asia, as we’re seeing with the launch of 3G in Bangladesh,” said Sigve Brekke, Executive Vice President and Head of Asia Operations, Telenor Group.

While parallels in the markets exist, the reality, however, is that consumer preferences and priorities differ vastly between Telenor’s Asia markets. TNS finds that Malaysians are both among the most smartphone-savvy and least brand conscious markets in emerging Asia, but by contrast, the study also revealed that Thais are highly loyal to brand names, which powerfully affect their smartphone and service provider choice.

Indians meanwhile say that their mobile devices – the majority of which are still feature phones – are their single most important electronic device. By a 9:1 margin, Indians say their mobile is the most important, leading the world in their devotion to the mobile phone.

“TNS undertakes the annual Mobile Life study to provide a finger on the pulse of mobile usage across the world and to determine which mobile platforms and services drive consumer engagement today and which are most likely to grow in the future,” said TNS’s Joe Webb, Head of Digital, Greater China. “For global mobile providers like Telenor, it’s going to be increasingly important to stay informed of consumers’ behaviour on mobile, how mobile finance will shape the industry and the opportunities these changes and trends present.”

Smartphones and mobile data surge

In Malaysia, an Ericsson Consumer Lab study published in September cites that smartphone penetration increased from 47% in 2012 to 63% this year as mobile data demand skyrockets in the country. The need to connect to the Internet is one of the key drivers for buying a smartphone. Seventeen percent of the respondents indicated that they would buy a smartphone within the next six months.

In Thailand, 4G and 3G expansion discussions between providers and regulators are coinciding with extraordinary growth in smartphone purchases – more than at any point in the history of the mobile phone. In the third quarter of 2013, smartphone purchases increased at a record 29.1 percent– from 7.1 million to 8 million smartphones now in circulation in the country.

And in India, as prices drop below the mass market affordability threshold of roughly USD100, analysts cite that smartphone ownership is set to skyrocket. Telenor’s efforts in India to enhance its network and expand capacity for soaring smartphone use will keep the company on pace with this trend, Telenor says.

Affordability key to spreading smart technology

The TNS global study highlights strong challenges of mobile data in developing markets. The tangible benefits of mobile data – applications, mobile Internet – are available primarily on smartphone platforms, and their high cost has been the main obstacle to widespread ownership in recent years in Telenor Asia’s markets – Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Thailand, Malaysia, and soon to be Myanmar.

Alternatives to using mobile data, such as WiFi, are not widely available (up to 5 per cent of data traffic is through WiFi in most developing markets, cites TNS), so without widespread smartphone use, mobile Internet is still limited in much of emerging Asia (60-80 per cent of mobile owners do not use mobile data at all).

“This is why we want to be increasingly able to offer smartphones and the mobile data connectivity at price points accessible to the average consumer in our Asian markets,” Brekke said.

“After years of work, we have made great progress in helping bring these prices down. Smartphone ownership is set to explode in emerging Asia. It’s through this ever widening avenue that Telenor is committed to bringing the power and opportunities of the Internet to all in Asia,” he added.

“These latest statistics back our ongoing business approach here, which is to provide affordable mobile devices and network capacity to areas that are underserved – all the while to continue advancing the high-speed networks and mobile technology we have in the urban, smartphone-ready data-hungry circles,” Brekke said.

Warming up to the “wallet” in South Asia and Malaysia, tepid with potential in Thailand

Both Indians and Malaysians are enthused at the prospect of more mobile financial services and the mobile wallet, but the technology is still unfamiliar in India. More than half (53 percent) of mobile users in Malaysia have conducted banking on their phones, with strong growth opportunities across all demographic segments, but only four percent of Indians have, though their interest is very high.

A similar, low percentage of Thais have conducted mobile financing activities on their phones (four percent), but the majority of all Thai demographics are still skeptical about security and say that they’d rather speak to their bank personnel in person. To date, Thais prefer banking in person or via PC, and will need to be reassured of mobile banking’s security as well as be familiarized with the services before they will be willing to experiment with it en masse, said the TNS report.

Thailand’s initial wariness of mobile financial services is also interpreted by industry players as great potential. The market for such services can only improve, in Telenor’s view, particularly given mobile wallet’s success across developed Asia and in its market to the south – Malaysia.

Mobile wallet services could represent a major source of revenue for retailers and mobile service providers, according to the TNS global study. Paying for products and services via SMS, mobile phone app or by touching mobiles to in-store sensors will become commonplace in emerging Asia in the coming years. Purchasing mobile air time, paying bills and buying gas and fast food see the most potential for growth.

“Particularly for young, working-aged Asians, mobile payment options show strong trial and overall interest, and we’re continuing to find new ways to serve them,” said Brekke. “Telenor has a long history of mobile finance innovation. It started in our Pakistan market with the ground-breaking Easypaisa program through our partnership with Tameer Microfinance Bank. We’re now launching similar mobile banking and payment platforms in Thailand, with DiGi in Malaysia and their mPOS (mobile Point of Sale) program, and in Myanmar in the years to come.”

In terms of mobile commerce, as consumers in Telenor’s Asian markets gain mobile Internet access, their engagement with mobile retail activities are increasing, announced the study. Already, Malaysia is near the top of the curve, behind only South Korea, Singapore, Hong Kong, Saudi Arabia, Norway and Sweden.

# # #

Editor’s note: The fieldwork for TNS’s Mobile Life 2013 study, drawing on 38,000 people from 43 countries, was undertaken between 20 November 2012 and 4 February 2013.

About Telenor Group

Telenor Group is an international provider of tele, data and media communication services. Telenor Group has mobile operations in 12 markets in the Nordic region, Central and Eastern Europe and in Asia, as well as a voting stake of 42.95 per cent (economic stake 33 per cent) in VimpelCom Ltd., operating in 17 markets. Headquartered in Norway, Telenor Group is one of the world’s major mobile operators with more than 150 million mobile subscriptions in its consolidated operations per Q2 2013, revenues in 2012 of NOK 102 billion, and a workforce of nearly 34,000. For more information about Telenor Group, please visit