Insight

Asia-Pacific Communications Ecosystem: Trends & Opportunities

Examining the state of the mobile industry in several APAC countries and looking at some of the most prominent challenges.

June 06 2017

Mobile channels and technologies in the APAC region have been evolving at a lightning pace, with a disruptive effect on local markets. Shifting user preferences coupled with a perceived lack of cross-platform solutions are the main obstacles in shaping and executing communication strategies. Overcoming those obstacles depends on specific circumstances in each market, so let’s take a look at the state of the mobile industry in several APAC countries and some of their most prominent challenges.

China and South Korea: Challenges of going global

Many tech companies from South Korea and China are truly global enterprises in every sense of the word. Major smartphone industry players like Huawei, Samsung, LG, Xiaomi are based in these countries, as well as online services like WeChat and more recently Snow, the Korean selfie-pic and video app with 100 million users. With CN¥101.14 billion in revenue, Alibaba is not only China's e-commerce giant, but a globally influential player and one of the most valuable companies in the world. The number of daily users for WeChat exceeded 768 million in September 2016 - according to its parent company, that marks a 35% rise from the previous year. Overall messages sent through the app have grown as well, by 67% since 2016. According to ZDNet, 50% WeChat users spend 90 minutes on the application every single day. The use of voice chat and video chat functions on WeChat reached 100 million daily calls in 2016, a 180% rise from 2015.

For companies like these, user authentication has been one of the key challenges in recent years and remains a crucial factor as they rapidly expand beyond the borders of their national economies. For most of them, continued growth meant facing and resolving the so-called billion user challenge. How to implement a system that allows smooth authentication of such a vast number of users spread across different countries, regions, legal systems and mobile operators? Increasingly, a combination of a username and password is seen as insufficient level of protection for any online service, and additional verification mechanisms are being implemented, such as global SMS-based 2-Factor Authentication (2FA). It relies on a mobile phone to receive an additional log in credential – a one-time password or PIN number (OTP) delivered via SMS or Voice. It can be programmed into any application or website over a simple SMS or voice API.

But there are many other challenges of international scaling - establishing brand loyalty and achieving the maximum level of user engagement across diverse markets and cultures. How to gradually introduce other channels and communications solutions, to address the growing preferences for mobile channels and trendy chat apps? Technical integration into a company's legacy IT systems, often complex and resource-intensive, is far from easy, and requires levels of customization and flexibility.

Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore: How to serve the app economy?

Certain APAC markets are rich in localized online services. Hong Kong, Singapore and Taiwan have many inventive hubs for startups, fostering new fintech, social and e-commerce projects. In 2016, Singapore had 4.1 million smartphone users (out of 5.75 million inhabitants), Hong Kong 5.4 million and Taiwan 17.2 million (out of its 23.52 million population). Such market and consumer trends have sparked the development of related businesses, smartphone apps, online and mobile services - many of them globally popular, but with strong local competitors due to language challenges and prominent IT hubs. Many of these companies seek to expand from their relatively small home markets to the neighbouring countries. They are looking to provide reliable service and a uniform user experience across their footprint in APAC. To succeed, they need to rely on sustainable telco and IP infrastructure, with equally reliable performance in multiple APAC countries.

Furthermore, services and technologies based around mobile numbers are opening up opportunities for cost reduction and improved performance. How to make certain that messages and phone calls to invalid numbers is reduced? Services like Number Lookup allow developers and service providers to perform automatic, silent, real-time queries into the status of mobile numbers they communicate with. Are the numbers active, ported, roaming, landline or mobile, no longer in use... Having these types of insights before launching any mobile initiative can lead to significant cost reduction and processes optimizations. Another capability relevant to these types of companies is mobile number anonymization. It is often employed by mobile platforms acting as intermediaries between a service and its end users (ride-sharing apps, delivery and accommodation booking services etc.) to protect both privacy and revenues. Yet, implementing number anonymization can be technically and operationally demanding, especially if done in multiple countries.

Indonesia: How to facilitate digital citizenship?

In Indonesia and Philippines, urban areas have become powerful creative hubs giving birth to some truly leading companies. At the same time, many local enterprises are trying to engage populations living in remote or rural areas. Plenty of companies developed in startup hubs have originated from specific, local needs and are built around the idea of resolving indigenous challenges, which puts them in a unique position for great success in their home markets.

The rapid increase of mobile phone usage and mobile payments and transactions in Asia has created a very specific landscape for these startups to navigate. While this area might have lagged behind during the implementation of desktop-based and similar systems, it has more than made up for it with the exponential boom of mobile technologies and solutions happening right now.

GoJek, for example, the first startup ‘unicorn’ of Indonesia, is a hyperlocal transport company. Functioning as a ride-sharing app for motorcycles, it aims to resolve commuting issues specific to the overpopulated Jakarta. Anakmuda.net empowers the Indonesian youth through informed ideas, by enabling them to connect to their platform and gain access to knowledge, information and capital via partnerships with various government bodies, corporations and individuals. Traveloka offers online flight and accommodation booking, with their combined desktop and mobile traffic exceeding 7.5 million visits each month. HaloDoc connects users to a network of licensed doctors and certified pharmacies through its medical delivery service ‘ApotikAntar’. It provides access to licensed medical labs in Indonesia and users can also communicate with medical professionals via chat, video and voice call.

Seekmi offers a hyperlocal platform for requesting home services in Indonesia, varying from home repairs to ironing and laundry. Eragano aims to help farmers with an end-to-end solution in the form of a mobile app the farmers can use to access information, connect to microloan facilities, and sell their products through an online marketplace. Its creation was inspired by the specific problems of small farmers in Indonesia, investigated by surveys and personal interviews with farmers. Porter is an integrated on-demand delivery service that connects local businesses to their online and offline customers. They offer a low-cost solution for local business logistics, also giving their customers the option of following their package using an app. HappyFresh is a logistics-based e-commerce startup that functions via an app, allowing users to order groceries and have them delivered.

These companies are faced with the problem of achieving smooth user registration, reducing their costs and improving the user experience for their large and rapidly growing user bases. They also need solid coverage and one, single provider they could rely on to polish their interactions and communications with their end users, and enable access to this vast range of online and mobile services to all their users. All of these come with similar needs for a platform that would simplify the already complex task of reaching out to this entire population in their countries, as well as neighbouring ones they are targeting for expansion.

Myanmar, Cambodia, Laos: Smart mobile adoption

With the Myanmar economy opening up and welcoming foreign investment due to the recent lifting of the embargo, it joins Cambodia and Laos as one of the fastest developing economies in the region. Numerous international and regional companies are eyeing expansion to these countries. The key to success will be quick and efficient reach of local customers. For MNOs, it’s crucial to build up smart practices and the right image from the very beginning.

Formerly known as Burma, Myanmar first established Internet connectivity in 2000. However, there was no significant growth until 2011, when political circumstances changed and reforms started. International sanctions were lifted by 2012, opening the doors for further foreign investment and business expansion. Myanmar’s telecoms revolution began in 2014 and the number of internet users since then has risen from 2 million to more than 39 million, while the number of SIM cards in circulation has risen by almost 400 percent, according to government figures.

Most of these users get online via mobile 3G broadband, which was introduced to the region by international telecommunication companies Telenor Myanmar and Ooredoo Myanmar in 2015. Later on, they were joined by the national Myanmar Post and Telecommunications (MPT). Today, along with Cambodia and Laos, Myanmar is listed as one of the countries with the largest growth opportunity in foreseeable future, for both online and offline services.

Cambodia also faced numerous challenges in the past to emerge as one of the fastest-growing economies in the area over the past decade. Smartphone penetration and adoption have skyrocketed: according to Cambodia Daily, roughly 98% of internet users in the area are mobile subscribers, leaving only the remaining 2% as telephone/DSL users. Experts have explained this by smartphones being cheaper and far more accessible in the country than personal computers. Cambodia also ranks as one of the countries with the cheapest Internet access in the world.

Laos has, during the past ten years, been noted for its annual GDP growth of more than 7%. Having made significant progress in strengthening its telecoms infrastructure, Laos has been attracting numerous foreign investors, which resulted in the rapid introduction of the latest telecommunications technologies. Recently, despite difficulties in the mobile sector caused by disconnecting inactive SIM cards, there has been an expansion of mobile broadband Internet services, following the large scale launch of 4G services by mobile operators. Meanwhile, the use of fixed Internet services in the country has been low.

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