Asia Pacific rings in with 188 million cellular subscribers

Singapore forges ahead with the largest growth in the mature markets, while China is still the sleeping giant with potentially 76 million subscribers by year's end.
Written by Mervin Chua, Contributor
Singapore forges ahead with the largest growth in the mature markets, while China is still the sleeping giant with potentially 76 million subscribers by year's end.

SINGAPORE - Mobile phones were ringing off the hook in Asia Pacific as more than 17 million customers signed up for mobile phone service in Asia Pacific during the second quarter of 2000. Even the slowdown in other key sectors didn't put a damper on mobile subscriber rates, according to Dataquest Inc., a unit of Gartner Group. The grand total of mobile phone users grew to 188 million subscribers as of June 2000.

Singapore is proving to be a mobile phone haven with its population of four million eagerly accommodating 1.88 million subscribers (a 15% increase) at the end of June, which works out to be about 47% of the population. Representing the highest growth among the mature markets of the region, this quarter's growth exceeds last quarters increase of 11%. The Gartner report also cited StarHub as a major accelerant in Singapore's mobile phone surge capturing a third of new subscribers.

Pre-paid services
With revenue decreasing from standard subscriber packages, operators are struggling to make up for the losses by introducing higher yield packages.

According to Nick Ingelbrecht, principal analyst for Gartner Dataquest's Asia/Pacific mobile research group,  "operators are struggling to reverse the slide in average subscriber revenue with the introduction of more attractive service packages, especially mobile Internet products, ahead of the rollout of 2.5G and 3G services during the coming 12 to 24 months."

The Philippines has registered relative success in introducing higher priced service plans with the popularity of short message service (SMS) coupled with aggressive handset subsidies and the take-up of prepaid services driving subscriber growth in the country.

In Japan, mobile Internet services and new color displays on mobile handsets have helped spur subscriber growth, although growth did ease in the second quarter.

Developing markets
Mobile data services failed to pique the interest of subscribers in developing markets like China, India and Indonesia. With some way to go in terms of infrastructure, traditional subscriber growth would still be the prevalent method of growth.

"In the developing markets -- notably China, India and Indonesia - there is fairly limited interest in mobile data services, but still plenty of room for traditional subscriber growth with structural reform and some consolidation likely to promote competition and network investment," Mr. Ingelbrecht said.

Cellular subscriber growth continued to grow in China, topping 60.6 million subscribers at the end of June. At current rates, the country is projected to pass 76 million subscribers by the end of this year.

"China's second carrier, Unicom, is starting to realize the benefits of improving network coverage, as well as better marketing and distribution arrangements," said Ann Liang, industry analyst for Gartner Dataquest's Asia/Pacific cellular phone research group. "Unicom now has 18 percent of the national subscriber base, which represents a critical level of market share and, with the help of favorable government policies, particularly on pricing, it is increasingly able to compete on a more equal footing with China Mobile."

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