Asia-Pacific was home to some 121 million 3G subscribers in 2007 and an estimated 158.4 million in 2008. By 2013, the region's 3G subscriber base is expected to top 564 million, accounting for about 18.2 percent of all mobile users. With 3G subscriber net additions in record numbers year-on-year, mobile operators are eager to monetize 3G external broadband devices, namely dongles and datacards, to complement their mobile broadband offerings.
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3G dongle services have thus far seen promising uptake. Frost & Sullivan senior industry analyst Marc Einstein notes, "Dongles and datacards are increasingly a preferred connectivity device of choice for Asia-Pac's broadband subscribers given the slim form-factor of the devices, faster 3G speeds and competitive service plans available."
He reckons that by 2013, more than one in every three new broadband subscriber will use dongles or datacards for their [mobile] broadband needs, giving fixed broadband players a run for their money.
New analysis from Frost & Sullivan finds that there were an estimated 5.2 million mobile broadband dongle and datacard users in Asia-Pac (18 countries) in 2008, with corresponding billings of over US$1.3 billion.
With the continuous roll-out of new 3G networks and 3.5G/4G upgrades across the region, Frost & Sullivan believes that there will be nearly 37 million 3G subscribers using external wireless devices for their mobile broadband needs by year end-2013, with estimated billable revenues of US$7.8 billion.
The uptake for these 3G devices is expected to accelerate after 2010 once 3G services become commercially available in most large Asian markets. Not surprisingly, China is expected to be the single largest market for the device with 20 percent (7.4 million) of the region's dongle/datacard users by 2013; India, a close enough second with 5.55 million (15 percent) dongle/datacard subscribers.
"3G technologies have come a long way since the world's first 3G network premiered in 2001 offering peak speeds of 384Kbps -- child's play when you consider what mobile broadband is capable of delivering today," says Einstein. "3G networks today boast of peak speeds of 21Mbps and can potentially peak at 50 to 100Mbps in the next two years."
He adds, "Mobile operators are aggressively exploring this business segment to make good their already costly investments in 3G infrastructure and provide [at least] comparable [to fixed] broadband connectivity in developed markets like South Korea and Japan where consumers are willing to pay a premium for mobile laptop access."
Einstein warns, however, that service quality will need to match or exceed the user experience that subscribers in Asia-Pac are already accustomed to with fixed broadband. "While mobile users are adopting the service in overwhelming numbers, they will return their devices just as quickly if actual speeds do not match up," he cautions.
The dramatic decline in the cost of these 3G devices also makes the service more affordable for end users. Einstein says that the days of a US five hundred-dollar price tag on datacards are over, "At less than US$150 a piece… many operators even offering it free with service bundles, anybody can be a road warrior today.
"More importantly, it means that mobile broadband is now poised to truly penetrate the residential segment," he adds.
For mobile operators in emerging markets like India and China, it means that the millions of households that are still unconnected can now realistically receive broadband access. Despite being low-ARPU (average revenue per user) markets with low PC-installed base, Einstein believes that several key developments in 3G in the past year will work favourably towards driving adoption of the technology and device.
He explains, "The future of 3G became much clearer in 2008 as HSPA became the breakout technology in the region. The GSM family [of networks] already has over 85 percent of the region's mobile subscribers and recent operator commitments to LTE (Long Term Evolution) means that in time to come, most of the region's subscribers will be using one technology standard.
"We believe that the economies of scale for 3G technology will be realised much faster," Einstein concludes, adding that these 3G devices will be a stepping stone to 4G-embedded devices which will eventually take mobile broadband to new heights.
Source: Cellular News.