The mobile industry in Asia Pacific is now worth more than US$1 trillion per year to the region’s economy, fuelled by rising mobile broadband and smartphone penetration, according to a GSMA report published at the GSMA Mobile World Congress Shanghai today. MWCS (previously known as Mobile Asia Expo) has opened at the Shanghai New International Expo Centre and will run until Friday, July 17.

Last year, the Shangai event had over 25,000 business and consumer attendees and another massive technology exhibition, featuring 250+ exhibitors, including Alcatel-Lucent Shanghai Bell, China Mobile, Huawei, LeTV, Mozilla, Nokia, NTT Docomo, SK Telecom, Visa and ZTE.

Asia Pacific now accounts for half of the world’s unique mobile subscribers and mobile connections and will continue to grow at a faster pace than the global average over the next five years, adding 600 million new unique subscribers by 2020. Migration to 4G networks and services in markets such as China is now occurring at a faster rate than was the case in developed regions such as Europe and North America, supported by rapidly expanding 4G network coverage and the increasing adoption of 4G smartphones.

GSMA director general, Anne Bouverot explained, “The Asia Pacific region features some of the world’s most advanced mobile markets, as well as fast-growing emerging markets that are using mobile as a platform to deliver essential services such as education, healthcare and banking.”

“Today’s report demonstrates how mobile is enabling digital inclusion and building digital societies across Asia, supporting a new era of innovation in areas such as digital commerce, the Internet of Things and mobile identity.”

Region driving global mobile subscriber and connections growth

At the end of the first quarter of 2015, there were 1.8 billion unique mobile subscribers1 in Asia Pacific, representing 45% of the region’s population. Four markets in the region – in order of size, China, India, Indonesia and Japan – account for over three-quarters of the region’s subscriber base. Many of the largest markets in the region are still relatively underpenetrated. India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, for example, have a combined population of over 1.6 billion, but a unique subscriber penetration rate of only 36% on average. Connecting these unconnected citizens will therefore be a major focus for both the mobile industry and policymakers in the region over the coming years.

The number of unique mobile subscribers in the region is forecast to grow by 5% per year over the remainder of the decade (2014 to 2020 CAGR), faster than the global average (4%) and making Asia Pacific the second-fastest region globally behind only Sub-Saharan Africa.

Total mobile connections2 in the region stood at US 3.7 billion in Q1 2015. 4G accounted for 9% of connections, a figure expected to reach a third of the total by 2020. 4G migration varies widely across the region; South Korea and Japan lead the world in 4G adoption, but the region also contains markets where 4G deployments are at an early stage (such as India, Indonesia and Pakistan) or where 4G licensing has yet to take place (such as Bangladesh, Myanmar and Vietnam).

Smartphones now account for 40% of connections in the Asia Pacific region and are set to account for two-thirds of the total by the end of the decade. Alongside expanding mobile broadband coverage, smartphone adoption is driving strong growth in mobile data traffic. According to Cisco, mobile data traffic growth in Asia Pacific will grow at a CAGR of 58% through to 2019, broadly in line with the global average figure, but with major markets in the region such as China and India forecast to grow at a faster rate3.

 Contributor to prosperity and jobs

The US$1.1 trillion total contribution from mobile to the Asia Pacific economy in 2014 (4.7% of GDP) represented an increase of nearly US$200 billion compared to the previous year. Mobile operators directly contributed US$286 billion to the total in 2014, equivalent to 1.2% of regional GDP4. It is forecast that the Asia Pacific mobile industry will be worth US$1.8 trillion by 2020, accounting for 5.9% of projected regional GDP by this point.

In 2014 the mobile ecosystem directly and indirectly employed 12.5 million people in Asia Pacific, a figure expected to rise to 15 million by 2020. The industry also makes a substantial contribution to the funding of the public sector, with approximately US$130 billion contributed in 2014 in the form of general taxation. This is set to grow to over US$150 billion by 2020.

“Asia Pacific has a unique opportunity to lead the global development of the mobile-powered digital society, putting mobile at the heart of a new digital ecosystem,” Bouverot added. “By implementing market conditions that encourage investment and innovation, the Asia Pacific region will be able to fully realise the positive transformative social and economic potential of mobile for the remainder of the decade and beyond,” Bouverot concluded.