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Web-capable smartphones high on Thais' wish list, survey finds

Internet-capable smartphones are the most desired device in Thailand, adding weight to discussions surrounding the expansion of nationwide third-generation cellular service and the roll-out of a 4G network.

Based on market-research firm TNS's annual global "Mobile Life" study, the Telenor Group revealed that while the mobile phone forms a key part of how Thais access digital services, the majority of this does not yet take place through mobile network data. However, demand for mobile data and mobile Internet is growing as smartphone ownership and affordability converge.

Currently, 56 per cent of those surveyed say they do not yet use their mobile phones for data or the Internet, 39 per cent do, with the rest only accessing data via Wi-Fi networks.

The TNS global study also found that Thai consumers were highly brand-conscious when it came to smartphones.

In comparison with other consumers globally, handset brands play a huge role in how Thais choose which devices to buy. The Thais cited the price driver as slightly less important - signifying the growing importance of both manufacturers and mobile service providers' supplying the market with premium brands.

The fieldwork for TNS's Mobile Life 2013 study, drawing on 38,000 people from 43 countries, was undertaken between November 20, 2012, and February 4 this year. The study uncovered major mobile-connectivity differences across emerging Asia. Those studied included representative ratios of the population from 16-60 years of age, both owners and non-owners of mobile phones.

In Telenor's Asia markets, those surveyed were asked in online and face-to-face interviews to provide information and agree to a series of questions related to the role of mobile technology in their lives. In Thailand, the sample size was 1,000; in Malaysia, 500; and in India, 2,980.

Smartphones set to soar

The study revealed that the Thai smartphone market was potentially one of the most explosive. At the time of the survey, only 36 per cent of Thais owned a smartphone, but the desire to own one was nearly universal. In the past year, the price of the average smartphone has dropped below the maximum that Thais are willing to pay, so ownership is set to grow further.

"Thailand is one of our most dynamic, fastest-growing markets in Asia," said Jon Eddy Abdullah, chief executive officer of Total Access Communication (DTAC), Telenor's operational partner in Thailand.

"On the one hand, there is still a huge rural population whose connectivity has been limited to just voice and SMS [short message service]. Their access to data or mobile Internet has remained behind much of the rest of Asia.

Mobile banking

"On the other hand, urban and young Thais are ready for the most advanced mobile technology and fastest connectivity available in Asia. While we're still working to connect more rural and lower-income people in Thailand, we're also committed to helping this country develop a highly advanced telecommunications network - for everyone.

"Thailand is ready for the gradual roll-out of a 4G mobile network," Abdullah said. "And we and Telenor are prepared to provide it."

This year, leading service providers have implemented 3G services, leading to increased stability and speed of network data and encouraging network data usage.

However, free Wi-Fi government projects have not yet been implemented, and many consumers still consider mobile data too expensive.

"Brands that make mobile data available in more affordable, smaller increments will encourage further data usage and drive equity with consumers," Abdullah said.

To date, only 4 per cent of mobile users in Thailand have performed mobile banking activities on their phones. The most interest in the potential of mobile banking is relegated to populations between 16 and 30 years of age, with 20-23 per cent citing interest.

The majority of Thai demographics are still sceptical about security and say they would rather speak to their bank personnel in person. To date, Thais prefer banking in person or via their personal computers, and will need to be reassured of mobile banking's security as well as be familiarised with the services before they will be willing to experiment with it en masse, said the TNS report.

Thai consumers are also still lukewarm to the "mobile wallet" concept. About half (49 per cent) state simply that they "don't need this service". However, Telenor feels that Thailand's young, digitally savvy population may quickly change their attitudes as mobile financial services continue to evolve.

Thailand's initial wariness of mobile financial services is also interpreted by industry players as great potential. The market for such services can only improve, in Telenor's view, particularly given mobile wallet's success across developed Asia and in Malaysia. The fact that mobile financing is already catching on among younger demographics, the TNS study said, also shows future growth opportunities.

Mobile-wallet services could represent a major source of revenue for retailers and mobile service providers, according to the TNS global study. Paying for products and services via SMS, mobile phone apps or by touching mobiles to in-store sensors will become commonplace in emerging Asia in the coming years. Purchasing mobile airtime, paying bills and buying fuel and fast food see the most potential for growth.

Social media demand

The TNS global study highlights that as the technological sophistication of mobile users grows, Thais are becoming avid social networkers and data consumers.

For its relatively low market penetration of smartphones at 36 per cent, Thailand's consumers are very active on social networks - 19 per cent of mobile-phone users access social network sites via phone daily. The figure jumps to 49 per cent of smartphone owners.

No surprise, given that Bangkok is No 1 in the world in Facebook traffic and that Facebook Messenger is the No 1 way Thai smartphone users send instant messages to one another.


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