16 Jul 2009

Are South East Asia’s telecoms regaining strength after a tough year?

The global crisis has affected the South East Asia region perhaps more than other emerging economies. 2008 was a tough year due to the relatively suddent slowdown of exports to economies themselves enduring the full strength of the downturn (the USA, Europe and Japan). How has 2009 fared so far for the region's telecoms markets?
According to recent data from Informa, for the first part of 2009 the picture is mixed. In terms of subscriber growth, Cambodia and the Philippines added more net subscriptions in 1Q09 than in 4Q08, but several countries (including Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Vietnam) added fewer subs in 1Q09 than in 4Q08. According to my colleague Nicole McCormick, “Thailand's net-adds figure was hit hardest, sinking from 2.1 million in 4Q08 to less than 1 million in 1Q09, thanks in part to the country's political turbulence and resulting weakness in the tourism sector. In Indonesia, the number of net adds dropped off slightly, from 7.79 million in 4Q08 to 7.48 million in 1Q09, probably in part because the country is no longer in the midst of a full-blown price war. The country's tariff battle ended in 4Q08.”
The health of the telecoms market can’t be gauged just by subscription figures. The region’s markets are maturing, meaning that their operators must find new ways of generating revenues as they slowly approach saturation. Value-added services are key to generate new revenues, which is made possible by the increasing availability of broadband networks in the region. Most markets have now launched 3G networks and/or are working on HSPA, and WiMAX has seen some succesful launches too.
The impact of the global economy on South East Asian telecom markets, and operators’ strategies to thrive in these challenging conditions, will be major subjects of discussion at next week’s South East Asia Com event in Kuala Lumpur, where the region’s major operators will meet to share their experiences: PT Indosat (Indonesia), Starhub (Singapore), DiGi Telecommunications (Malaysia), Maxis Communications Bhd (Malaysia), VNPT (Vietnam), Emtek Group (Indonesia), Celcom (Malaysia), Planet Online (Laos), Bayan Telecommunications (Philippines), EVN Telecom (Vietnam), Globe Telecom (Philippines), Packet One Networks (Malaysia), and more.
Considering the many travel restrictions placed by companies across the region, this great line-up shows that operators are seeing the benefits of networking and sharing best practices. This should give me interesting stories to report on after the event, if not some gossip about what operators are up to in the region.