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The development of Asia-Pacific’s internet ecosystem hinges on the adoption of smartphones. eMarketer estimates that the region will be home to 1.33 billion smartphone users by the end of this year, and that their ranks will swell to 1.81 billion by 2021.
But another equally, if not more important, measure of the state of Asia-Pacific’s internet development can be measured by the availability and adoption of 4G LTE mobile broadband networks.
According to new data from GSMA Intelligence, the region is set to hit a tipping point in the adoption of 4G next year. In fact, 41% of mobile connections in the region will be on 4G networks come 2018, with more 4G connections than either 3G (23%) or 2G (36%) for the first time.
This change has resulted from a rapid unveiling of 4G networks in 2016, according to GSMA Intelligence, with 22 LTE networks going live in Asia-Pacific that year alone. As of March 2017, there were 106 LTE networks in 37 countries across the region.
Markets like South Korea, Japan and Australia have had high 4G penetration rates for a while, but developing countries such as Vietnam, Indonesia and India are now catching up. That’s due to increased investment in 4G infrastructure by mobile carriers, as well as a rise in competition and a fall in the prices of 4G-capable smartphones, GSMA Intelligence reported.
For instance, Vietnamese state-owned mobile network operator Viettel launched its commercial 4G LTE network in April 2017, claiming to provide coverage to 95% of the country’s population via some 36,000 base stations. Viettel also priced 4G packages at a discount when compared with 3G plans in order to hasten the adoption of the faster network standard.
But many Asia-Pacific markets are already looking forward to the launch of new 5G networks, with billions of dollars already earmarked for the build-out of new infrastructure to support the new standard.
China, for example, is planning to invest some $411 billion on 5G mobile networks between 2020 and 2030, according to the China Academy of Information and Communications Technology government research arm. Japan’s three largest mobile network operators—SoftBank, NTT Docomo and KDDI—are planning to funnel a combined $45.7 billion into 5G technology, with the goal of launching the faster networks by 2020.
Data from GSMA Intelligence supports the idea that a surge in 5G connections is imminent. The trade organization’s research arm expects 5G mobile connections to climb from a relatively paltry 10 million in 2020 to 669 million by 2025.
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