The rapid evolution of the mobile ecosystem is leading to the emergence of new services and applications that are transforming the way people live, work, play and communicate across the entire Asia Pacific region. The emerging digital era is based on the interconnection of multiple devices over intelligent networks, enabling users to seamlessly interact with a variety of interoperable services. The large-scale societal adoption and use of digital technologies is a key driver of measurable economic, social and cultural value, and a greater capacity to tackle social and environmental issues.

1. Industry overview

At the end of 2015, 62% of the population in Asia Pacific subscribed to mobile services. Growth rates in the region are set to remain above the global average, with more than 600 million new subscribers by 2020. The focus of growth will shift to South and South-East Asia; India alone is set to add almost 250 million new subscribers by the end of the decade.

The region is seeing an accelerating technology migration to 4G, with the number of 4G connections increasing by 2.5 times in 2015. The region’s technology leaders – South Korea, Japan and China – are now driving the development of 5G mobile technologies. With high levels of 4G adoption, supportive governments and ambitious launch targets, operators in these countries are challenging North American counterparts such as Verizon in the race to launch 5G.

2. Growth and innovation

In 2015, mobile technologies and services generated 5.4% of GDP in Asia-Pacific, equivalent to around $1.3 trillion of economic value. In the period to 2020 we expect this to increase to $1.7 trillion. The mobile ecosystem supported 15 million jobs in 2015. In addition, it makes a substantial contribution to public sector funding, with approximately $111 billion raised in 2015 from general taxation.

The global axis of mobile innovation continues to tilt towards Asia Pacific. The rapid adoption of smartphones and the willingness to embrace new apps and services are the common threads that link an otherwise highly diverse region. Innovation extends from the regional technology leaders such as Japan, Korea and increasingly China, to the developing countries that are embracing mobile technology and particularly smartphones as their access point to the digital future.

3. Mobile addressing social challenges

Mobile technology continues to address a range of challenges, including the issue of unregistered populations, reducing the digital divide and delivering financial inclusion. In September 2015, the UN introduced the Sustainable Development Goals — a 17-point plan to end poverty, combat climate change and fight injustice and inequality. Mobile networks have the power to accelerate this journey: the GSMA and mobile operators are united in ensuring that connectivity plays a key role in helping achieve the 17 targets.

Mobile money is now available in 33 countries via 87 service providers. The penetration of the mobile internet in Asia Pacific has increased 2.5 times in the last five years, reaching 45% of the population by the end of 2015. Over the next five years, an additional 800 million people are expected to gain access to the mobile internet, bringing the total to 2.6 billion.

4. Enabling digitisation

If the full potential of digital societies is to be realised, policymakers need to identify the complex adjacent elements required to build an interoperable digital ecosystem at a national level. This involves prioritising initiatives that drive a specific and measurable digitisation agenda, with strong support from the highest levels of government and regulatory frameworks that can support the demands of an increasingly connected and converged society.

Government and economic organisations play a potentially crucial role in regional development, both in terms of helping define and promote forward-looking national digital development agendas, and in developing and supporting a harmonised approach to issues bearing cross-border and transnational dimensions.