Hong Kong Outpaces Rest of Asia
By Eric Lin, Mon Aug 09 23:15:00 GMT 2004

Reports on mobile users in Asia are usually limited to Japan and South Korea, with a rare mentions of high growth markets like mainland China. Though it doesn't get much attention, Hong Kong has the highest mobile penetration in the East.

The Western view of mobile phone usage and penetration in Asia is often skewed by stories of technological wonder and a what little else is available in English. TNS has compiled statistics from 12 Asian and Pacific Rim countries to present a more realistic picture of mobile technology in Asia. Japan and Korea receive the bulk of attention because they seem to adopt advanced services at a faster pace, but other countries have adopted 2G to an even greater extent.

Hong Kong actually has the highest penetration of adult mobile users (age 16-67) out of any metro region in Asia, where 83% of residents use a mobile phone. Australia's metro areas are second in Pacific -- 82% of city dwellers there have a mobile phone. Japan comes in third at 80%. The only other country listed is China, which has a penetration of 66% in its 12 major cities. Hong Kong also has the highest penetration of young users (6-15 year olds) at 29%. Japan and Australia are tied at second with 25% each.

Although it has the highest penetration of adult and youth subscribers, Hong Kong has the lowest SMS usage in Asia. Users send an average of 23 messages per month. The top SMS spots is, not surprisingly, occupied by the Philippines -- each user sending an average of 466 SMS per month. Singapore places second with 219 messages per month. Vietnam came in third at 136 messages.

Japan probably placed low on the SMS rankings because most messages sent on phones there are emails not SMS, since the carriers there do not have SMS interoperability. Hong Kong operators came late to SMS interoperability as well, partially accounting for its extremely low use. Hong Kong is also one of the most competitive voice markets, so calls are inexpensive enough to practically negate the typical savings of using SMS. Nor do residents there have any cultural barriers that prevent them from making calls in public.

Hong Kong may rule when it comes to voice, but the Asian countries that get attention do so for their data services. The Hong Kong market is higly competitive -- six operators compete for 7 million users. Operators will need to look to data services for additional revenue as the cost of voice calls is continually driven down because of stiff competition. Interoperability should help drive SMS adoption, as it has recently in the US. Maybe Hong Kong needs shows like Pop Idol and Big Brother to start subscribers texting.