Using Myanmar and India as examples, Telenor’s Karianne Melleby shares insights on why mobile communication is the new digital frontier to conquer emerging markets in Asia
It was less than three years ago that Myanmar opened up bids to build its first modern and competitive mobile networks. Within 18 months, two new entrants had launched their networks and millions of people started joining the telecom revolution.
During the country’s recent milestone elections, mobile communications played a key role in helping inform citizens’ decisions and contributed to political transparency.
From a flourishing new crop of social media-based apps designed for the elections to the number of mobile towers sprouting across the country, Myanmar is a shining example of the impact mobile communications can have in the frontier markets of Asia.
Mobile adoption is surging in emerging economies
Consider this: According to an Ericsson mobility report, 87 million new mobile subscribers were added globally in this past quarter alone, and nearly six per cent of them came from Myanmar – making it the fourth fastest growing mobile telecommunications market on earth. India came in first place, adding 13 million subscribers in the same quarter.
The telecom industry aims to stimulate demand by developing its core services, such as faster networks and more advanced handsets, as well as by introducing innovative new services.
For example, in India, global telecom giant Telenor has introduced a free life insurance scheme for its more than 47 million customers, as well as potential new customers. Previously, less than four per cent of Indians had insurance of any type, the offer from the company enables a greater part of the Indian population to easily activate a life insurance policy and sustain it through their monthly mobile top-ups.
In Myanmar, industry observers have been surprised by high Internet usage among the country’s telecom subscribers. Among the company’s customer base, more than 55 per cent use the Internet on a regular basis on their mobile phones — a figure that easily beats the usage levels in neighbouring countries such as Bangladesh and Thailand.
People in Myanmar have fallen in love with the ability to play games online, share their updates on Facebook and get their horoscope from one of the popular fortune tellers on the mobile Internet.
Looking beyond subscribers and the evolution of the industry, mobile telecommunications is enabling innovation and delivering on the promise of a digital transformation of emerging Asia.
The economic impact of innovation driven by mobile apps is not to be underestimated. According to the Asia Pacific Mobile Economy 2015 report, content, applications and services alone contributed US$52 billion to the Asia-Pacific GDP in 2014. The same report also pointed out that this sector contributed to approximately 2.4 million jobs in the region.
At the recent Digital Winners conference in Oslo, Norway – a Telenor platform which offers thought-provoking perspectives on innovation and digital business opportunities – six promising Asian startups from Bangladesh, Malaysia, Thailand, Myanmar, India and Pakistan competed for the conference’s ‘Best App in Asia’ award.
The six shortlisted Asian startups, which presented mobile apps focussing on education and agriculture, embody the rising trend seen across Asia: startups want to launch innovations that empower societies.
The winner was Myanmar’s e-book app, Wun Zinn, which was selected for its impact on education and access to learning. The app is designed to connect writers with their readers in an online sourcing, publishing and selling platform. Its creator, Bagan Innovation Technology, is looking to scale up regionally in order to introduce the platform in Thailand and Malaysia.
What needs to be done now
However, for innovation to take flight, there are many challenges for startups. To overcome the hurdles of finding distribution, funding and partnerships, support needs to come from within the ecosystem: the telecom operators, the technology giants and the already successful entrepreneurs.
Platforms such as Digital Winners and incubator programmes such as dtac’s Accelerate, demonstrate the role telcos play in broader digital initiatives. Startups should look towards telecom operators for their strengths in networks and distribution, funding and access to a broad and digitally hungry audience.
The digital transformation in emerging Asia is one of the biggest industrial shifts in modern history, and one that the telecom industry is committed to driving forward.
Just think about Bagan Innovation Technology: If a Myanmar-based startup already has the potential to create the best app in Asia in 2015, imagine what the future might look like for its fellow innovators in the years to come.
The views expressed here are of the author’s, and e27 may not necessarily subscribe to them. e27 invites members from Asia’s tech industry and startup community to share their honest opinions and expert knowledge with our readers. If you are interested in sharing your point of view, please send us an email at writers[at]e27[dot]co
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