Wednesday 15 January 2020

An Overview of Mobile Markets in the Pacific Islands

Mobile technology is a playing a pivotal role in the economic and technological development of the
Pacific Islands, enabling access to life enhancing services in areas such as health and education,  as well as creating more jobs and increasing tax revenues.

Currently the Pacific Islands region has a  modest mobile subscriber growth,  subscriber penetration rates remain well below regional and global developed market averages.

According to The GSMA Mobile Economy Pacific Islands 2019 report, although 38% of the population subscribed to a mobile service as at the end of 2018, this trails the average for least developed countries (44%). Within the region, there is significant variation in the development of local mobile markets; subscriber penetration rates range from a high of 84% in Fiji to a low of just 11% in the Marshall Islands. Papua New Guinea is by some way the most populous country in the region; with a subscriber penetration rate of 30%, it is home to the majority of the
unconnected population across the region.

Operators are investing to improve LTE network coverage and speeds. 4G connections are set to account for more than half of total connections by 2023, doubling the figure from the end of 2018.
The shift to mobile broadband and 4G also reflects the increasing rates of smartphone adoption. From just 30% of connections at the end of 2018, this is forecast to more than double to 65% by 2025, helped by declines in smartphone prices and the emergence of new, low-cost smartphone vendors.
Faster network speeds and more advanced devices are key to bringing populations online. At the end of 2018, mobile internet penetration in the Pacific Islands was the lowest of any region in the world, at just 18% of the population. This figure will grow over the coming years, but by 2025 only a third
of the population will have mobile internet access. This will leave more than 9 million people across the region offline, limiting their ability to participate in the digital economy and take advantage of the opportunities it can offer

Most islands still lack properly developed innovation ecosystems due to the limited size of the individual markets, the complexity of developing sound infrastructure between the archipelagos, and
the significant leverage of larger regional hubs in Asia Pacific.

Within the region, subscriber penetration rates range from a high of 84% in Fiji to a low of just 11% in the Marshall Islands. Papua New Guinea is by some way the most populous country in the region. Its current subscriber penetration rate of 30% means it is home to the majority of the unconnected
population across the region. Connecting these still unconnected populations remains the key challenge for operators and other industry stakeholders in the region, including governments and regulators.

The region is seeing an ongoing shift to mobile broadband connections (3G and 4G capable
devices), which by the end of 2018 already account for more than half the connections base. 4G alone is set to account for over half of total connections by 2023 – more than doubling the figure from the end of 2018.

There are now 34 LTE networks in service across the region. Most recently, Tuvalu Telecom launched on the island of Tuvalu in 2018. Operators are continuing to invest in expanding their existing networks, in terms of coverage and network speeds.

Fiji hosts a relatively sophisticated communications infrastructure with the highest mobile and Internet penetration in the Pacific islands, according to Research & Markets.

It is the leading market to watch in terms of both 4G LTE and 5G development in this region. In 2019 the Fijian mobile operators continue to heavily invest in 4G LTE and LTE-A technologies, and these networks now account for the largest share of mobile connections. Concentrating on the more highly populated areas, the operators are preparing for the next growth area of mobile data. For example, Vodafone Fiji announced in 2018 its plans to invest FJD207 million ($98.6 million) in the upgrade of its mobile networks, with the goal of raising ‘4G+’ coverage to more than 90% of the population. Around 100 existing 3G cell sites will be converted to LTE-A technology, while a further 244 new sites will be developed to increase 4G coverage and network speeds. Similarly, Digicel announced a $50 million plan to improve LTE-A coverage for key population areas in Fiji.

Both Digicel Fiji and Vodafone Fiji also have 5G in mind and are preparing the networks to be pre-5G ready. Fiji presents a challenging geographic environment for infrastructure developments generally, due to its population being spread across more than 100 islands. However, the majority of Fijians live on the two main islands of Viti Levu and Vanua Levu.

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