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Kingdom moving even more into the mobile era this year

Larger smartphone choices and better wireless broadband drive trend

This year is expected to see Thailand embrace the mobile era to an even greater degree, with people online via mobile devices anywhere at any time.

The wide availability of third-generation networks, and 4G networks being developed; smartphones; and applications are actively driving this phenomenon. Smartphones this year could account for more than 60 per cent of the mobile phones in the Kingdom, a big jump in just a few years.

Opas Cherdpunt, chief executive officer of M Vision, an organiser of the four-day "Thailand Mobile Expo Hi-End" (TME) that ended on Sunday, said total spending at the event did not meet the target, affected by the current worrying political atmosphere.

"However, feedback, spending, and the numbers of visitors were good enough considering the event was held in the midst of the political protest," he said.

He added that consumer behaviour was changing. People now take their time before deciding to buy a smartphone. They compare each product's features with its price, while considering the design as well. They no longer base their purchases on brand awareness alone. Therefore, at TME this time, a lot of consumers shunned the famous names and bought smartphones from new brands.

"More consumers also bought lower-priced smartphones that addressed their requirements, including price, performance and design."

More choices for consumers

Smartphones from personal-computer vendors were also popular at the event, reflecting the fact that this is now a very competitive market - good news for consumers, as they have more choices.

"By the second half of this year, there will be a lot more smartphones and tablets at affordable prices coming on to the market," Opas said.

More than 40 brands were represented at the expo, including Samsung, Microsoft, OPPO, i-mobile, Sony, and HTC, as well as telecom operators including Advanced Info Service, Total Access Communication (DTAC), TrueMove H and TOT.

Recently, DTAC soft-launched a 4G system using LTE (long-term evolution) technology in inner Bangkok, while continuing to expand its 3G coverage nationwide. It targets 1 million 4G subscribers by year-end.

CEO Jon Eddy Abdullah said DTAC was ready to launch 4G on the 2.1-gigahertz spectrum and deliver an enhanced experience to wireless broadband customers. The initial launch was in parts of Bangkok with high Internet traffic, including Rama IV, Sathorn, Silom, Klong Toei, Sutthisan, Ratchadaphisek and Din Daeng.

"When DTAC TriNet customers enter 4G coverage [areas], the phones will automatically switch to 4G LTE on 2,100 megahertz and switch frequency bands according to customers' usage," Abdullah said.

"Additionally, 4G customers will experience better data services, including video, movie and content downloads, [and] new applications. The [use of] 4G LTE will also help offload 3G data traffic and improve performance in congested areas."

Launched a year ago, DTAC TriNet, which claims to offer superior 3G service on the 2.1GHz spectrum, had 15.9 million subscribers by the end of the first quarter of this year, out of DTAC's total 28.2 million subscribers.

DTAC TriNet targets at least 22 million subscribers by the end of the year.

By next month, DTAC TriNet plans to have enough base stations to cover 85 per cent of the population, including people in remote areas. Also, it says it has improved signal quality in congested areas, especially those with rapid smartphone growth and high 3G demand.

True's 4G LTE service is available in Bangkok and 14 provinces, while True MoveH's 3G network is available in 928 districts of 77 provinces throughout the country.

Meanwhile, Pratthana Leela-panang, AIS executive vice president for marketing, said the telecom now had 17,000 3G-2.1GHz base stations up and running and would continue to expand both geographic coverage and data capacity.

Better speeds

He said AIS had improved quality by improving base-station density, using innovative "small cells" to fill coverage gaps. Importantly, it uses a single frequency to secure more reliability than simultaneous use of multiple frequencies.

"Currently we have 26 million users of our 3G service, out of our total of 42 million customers. Our mission from now on is to tailor the benefits of the AIS 3G-2.1GHz network meet customer demands for source quality, and offer high-value smartphones for customers to choose from.

"We are also tasked to leverage on 3G technology as well as sourcing the new 4G technology for our customers," Pratthana said.

More smartphone suppliers are becoming active in Thailand this year, such as Huawei, HTC and Asus, resulting in strong price competition.

Chinese company Huawei by the second half of this year plans to bring its smartphones into the Thai market. Chen Rui, managing director of Huawei Technologies (Thailand), said the company would increase its marketing budget.

It will put more focus on offering smartphones and enterprise solutions in Thailand.

He promised that affordable Huawei smartphones, which will support both 3G and 4G, will be available in Thailand soon.

Taiwanese company HTC is also becoming more aggressive in Thailand's smartphone market. It aims to be the No 3 player here, targeting a double-digit share and growth rate this year.

HTC South Asia president Jack Yang said Thailand's smartphone market in particular was growing very quickly and was in the top five of the company's strategic markets in Asia.

It has adjusted its strategy by offering more than just high-end products. It is also working closely with DTAC for the phones' distribution.

Huge opportunities

He added that Thailand's smartphone market was competitive but there were huge opportunities, especially in the mid-tier market, where prices are between Bt10,000 and Bt20,000, and in the high-tier market, where prices are more than Bt20,000.

By the end of this month, it will launch the HTC Desire 310 for the low-tier market with a price between Bt4,000 and Bt5,000 and HTC Desire 816 for the mid-tier market. HTC One (M8) is its flagship product in the high-tier market.

Asus Thailand also has set an aggressive sales target for its smartphones, aiming to snare 10 per cent of the market of 14 million to 20 million units in its first year here. Jeff Lo, manager of AsusTeK Computer (Thailand), said the company was very focused on the smartphone market as it had high potential for growth.

Thus the company plans to spend nearly Bt130 million on smartphone marketing this year.

New smartphone offerings

Asus is launching its first Android smartphone, the ZenFone, in three sizes - the 4-inch model priced at Bt2,999, 5-inch at Bt5,999 and 6-inch at Bt8,999. They will all be available next month.

"In the past, we did not focus purely on smartphones but we on hybrid devices called PadFone and FonePad, the integration of phone and tablet in one device. But now it is time to focus on smartphones. Smartphones are a little bit different from laptops and tablets, as they are consumer products, so we need to invest in this market a lot to build brand awareness as well as drive sales," Lo said.

Ariya Banomyong, country head of Google Thailand, said the readiness of the mobile broadband network and mobile devices were key drivers for the growth of mobile Internet usage in Thailand. The Internet is the game changer for the way of doing business. Almost all people are always online, via some device.

Vikas Gulati, vice president for Southeast Asia at Vserv.mobi, said smartphones were a connected ecosystem, with about a billion of them shipped worldwide last year. The mobile-device boom created challenges and opportunities in equal measure for businesses' digital marketing.

"Mobile shopping is a huge opportunity in the emerging markets, and mobile devices are people's purchasing partners," Gulati said.

Krittee Manoleehagul, managing director of Sanook Online and assistant general manager of Tencent, the operator of WeChat, said that localising content was key to using messaging tools for marketing.

WeChat ties social messaging to e-commerce with payment solutions and demographic targeting.

Virutt Kosolvijak, sales manager for global business at Line Thailand, said Line was an important marketing platform for business. More brands have been establishing a presence on the Line platform to reach its more than 24 million users in Thailand.

Mobile commerce

Thailand is now moving towards the mobile-commerce era with people shopping more online via mobile devices, both smartphones and tablets, said Rakuten Tarad.com's founder and managing director Pawoot Pongvitayapanu.

Rakuten Tarad.com is the operator of the country's leading e-commerce portal in Thailand. It aims to double its business this year on the explosive growth in mobile devices, especially smartphones.

Mobile commerce has been the star business, ramping up from 27 per cent of its e-commerce sales last year to 50 per cent last quarter and heading for 60 per cent by year-end. As smartphone penetration continues to increase, more and more people turn to their mobile devices to get information about products and prices before they buy.

"Mobile commerce is our direction this year. We target first-time e-commerce buyers who normally go online via mobile phone. Last quarter, smartphones accounted for 73 per cent of its mobile sales, while 27 per cent was from tablets.

"We will focus on doing marketing campaigns over the mobile

platform. This year we set a bigger marketing budget to drive sales volumes from this target group," Pawoot said.


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