Asia Pacific to Add 600 Million New Mobile Subscribers by 2020, Finds Latest GSMA Mobile Economy Study

Mobile Ecosystem Adds $1.3 Trillion in Economic Value to Asia Pacific Economy

Shanghai: The number of mobile subscribers in the Asia Pacific region reached 2.5 billion at the end of last year and will grow to 3.1 billion by 2020, according to a new GSMA study published at GSMA Mobile World Congress Shanghai this week. The new report, ‘The Mobile Economy: Asia Pacific 2016’, finds that 62 per cent of the Asia Pacific population was subscribed to a mobile service in 2015, forecast to rise to almost three-quarters of the population by 2020 as a further 600 million new subscribers are added over the period. It is calculated that mobile technologies and services made up 5.4 per cent of Asia Pacific’s GDP last year, equivalent to $1.3 trillion in economic value; this economic contribution is set to increase to $1.7 trillion by 2020.

“More than half the world’s mobile subscribers are based in Asia Pacific and the region will be the main engine of global subscriber growth for the remainder of the decade,” said Mats Granryd, GSMA Director General. “Rising subscriber penetration, alongside accelerating migration to faster networks and more advanced services, continues to fuel innovation and digitisation across both advanced and emerging markets in this highly diverse region. Mobile is helping Asia build digital societies that allow its citizens to access services, anytime and anywhere – and these mobile-powered digital societies are becoming major drivers of social and economic development.”

Growth in Subscribers, Mobile Broadband and Smartphones Across Asia
Asia Pacific will account for 60 per cent of the one billion unique mobile subscribers1 that will be added to the global total by 2020, with the region continuing to add subscribers at a faster rate than the global average2. The four largest markets in the region – China, India, Indonesia and Japan – together accounted for more than three-quarters of the region’s total subscriber base. India alone is expected to add nearly 250 million new subscribers by 2020 but smaller countries in the region such as Bangladesh, Indonesia, Myanmar and Pakistan will also make major contributions to subscriber growth.

Mobile broadband (3G/4G) accounted for 45 per cent of total mobile connections3 in Asia Pacific last year, forecast to rise to 70 per cent by 2020 as operators continue to invest in 4G network build-outs and subscribers migrate to higher-speed networks. 4G is on track to account for more than a third of total connections in Asia Pacific by 2020. At the end of 2015, the region had 76 live 4G-LTE networks and 20 live VoLTE networks. According to the report, 4G migration is now gathering pace in markets such as Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Thailand. Meanwhile, the region’s 4G pioneers – such as South Korea, Japan and China – are driving the development of 5G mobile technologies in readiness for deployments before the end of the decade.

The number of smartphone connections in Asia Pacific totaled 1.7 billion at the end of 2015, accounting for 45 per cent of regional connections. China, India and Indonesia have been the main drivers of smartphone growth, helping the region double its overall smartphone base over the last two years. The region will add a further 1.3 billion smartphone connections by 2020, reaching 3 billion, or two-thirds of the region’s total connections base by that point.

Mobile Ecosystem a Rising Contributor to the Asian Economy
The $1.3 trillion in economic value generated by the Asia Pacific mobile industry last year (5.4 per cent of Asia Pacific GDP4) is expected to rise to $1.7 trillion by 2020 as the region continues to benefit from the improvements in productivity and efficiency made possible by increased take-up of mobile services and the adoption of new technologies such as machine-to-machine (M2M).

The mobile ecosystem in Asia also supported 15 million jobs in 2015. This includes workers directly employed in the ecosystem and jobs that are indirectly supported by the economic activity generated by the sector. In addition to the mobile sector’s impact on the economy and labour market, it makes a substantial contribution to public sector funding; approximately $111 billion was raised in the region last year via general taxation.

Asia’s mobile industry is also playing a leading role in delivering digital inclusion and addressing the digital divide. According to the report, there were 1.8 billion citizens across Asia Pacific accessing the internet over mobile devices at the end of last year, equivalent to 45 per cent of the region’s population. It is predicted that a further 800 million people in Asia will connect to the mobile internet by 2020 (63 per cent of expected population). As a result, mobile has become a platform that enables digital identity, financial inclusion, and a range of social and developmental services that are helping to deliver the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)5.

“Mobile is the primary tool for extending connectivity and internet access to all corners of Asia, delivering a myriad of economic and social benefits,” added Granryd. “But there is still work to be done. The mobile industry must work with regulators and ecosystem players to address the key barriers to digital inclusion in Asia Pacific, such as lack of locally relevant content, affordability and a lack of digital skills.”

The new report ‘The Mobile Economy: Asia Pacific 2016’ is authored by GSMA Intelligence, the research arm of the GSMA. To access the full report and related infographics please visit:


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About the GSMA
The GSMA represents the interests of mobile operators worldwide, uniting nearly 800 operators with almost 300 companies in the broader mobile ecosystem, including handset and device makers, software companies, equipment providers and internet companies, as well as organisations in adjacent industry sectors. The GSMA also produces industry-leading events such as Mobile World Congress, Mobile World Congress Shanghai and the Mobile 360 Series conferences.

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1 A unique mobile subscriber represents an individual that can account for multiple mobile connections (SIM cards)

2 Subscriber growth rates, 2015-2020. Asia Pacific: 4.5% CAGR; global: 3.9 per cent CAGR

3 A mobile connection refers to an active SIM card registered with a mobile network, including M2M connections. The total number of mobile connections in Asia Pacific reached 3.9 billion in 2015 and is forecast to rise to 5 billion by 2020

4 GDP total includes contribution from mobile operators (1.1%); related industries such as devices and infrastructure players (0.7%); indirect impact (0.6%); and productivity impact (3.0%)

5 In September 2015, the UN introduced a set of 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as part of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The 17-point plan aims to end poverty, combat climate change and fight injustice and inequality. The GSMA is supporting the SDGs as part of its #betterfuture campaign.