Mobile technology to bridge East Malaysian digital gap

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In Malaysia, over 70% of smartphone users in the youth category use their smartphones to browse the Internet, send SMSes, and engage in social media and instant messaging.In Malaysia, over 70% of smartphone users in the youth category use their smartphones to browse the Internet, send SMSes, and engage in social media and instant messaging.In Malaysia, over 70% of smartphone users in the youth category use their smartphones to browse the Internet, send SMSes, and engage in social media and instant messaging.

There is little doubt that mobility is exploding all around us and that this trend is driven not only by the plethora of devices that are out on the market but also by the growing use of wireless data, particularly driven by young people in countries within Southeast Asia (SEA), including Malaysia.

In fact, a recent mobility report conducted by mobile network equipment manufacturer Ericsson’s ConsumerLab notes that youths, defined as those between the ages of 16- and 24-years-old, are the most likely segment of user demographics that are using smartphones today.

Of the six countries in East Asia surveyed by Ericsson, about 75% of smartphone owners in Australia and Singapore are youths. This is followed by Malaysia at 70%, Thailand and Philippines at just below 60% and about 40% in Indonesia.

More specifically in Malaysia, over 70% of smartphone users in the youth category use their smartphones to browse the Internet, send SMSes, and engage in social media and instant messaging.

But as promising as these figures sound, Ericsson notes that there are still a number of impediments holding back further growth, especially in more rural areas in East Malaysia, which must be addressed in order that the country as a whole, can bridge the digital divide.

A quantitative survey conducted by Ericsson ConsumerLabs specifically in Sabah and Sarawak revealed the following key highlights:

  • There is a perceived gap between smartphone usage in East and Peninsular Malaysia;
  • Mobile data is mainly used on smartphones and data usage is the main driver to buy smartphones;
  • Knowledge about mobile data and affordability of mobile plans and devices are the main drivers for increased data usage;
  • Social networking is the main pull factor for would be data users;
  • A service/application based plan is the favoured service concept; and
  • Content in local language matters to users

The survey, conducted in the first quarter of this year, polled about 700 people in the following areas: Papar, Kota Kinabalu, Sandakan, Lahad Datu, and Tawau in Sabah and Serian, Kuching, Sibu, Bintulu, Miri in Sarawak.

The study sought to understand the current penetration of mobile data in East Malaysia, evaluate the potential growth opportunities in East Malaysia, understand the drivers and barriers for mobile data adoption and provide recommendations to increase the uptake of mobile data.

Interesting results

Todd Ashton, Ericsson Malaysia MD

Todd Ashton, Ericsson Malaysia MDAccording to Todd Ashton (pic), head of Ericsson Malaysia and Sri Lanka, mobile data is mainly used on smartphones in East Malaysia.

The poll suggested that up to 45% of respondents use data on small screens compared to only 10% used on big screens, which includes those used on PCs, he added.

“The current usage of mobile Internet is mainly on the mobile phone but there is good potential for both. [However] the potential for the small screen is easier to realise due to the cheaper price of smartphones,” he said.

However, Ashton also said while the potential to grow data usage is there, there are some formidable impediments to doing so.

He said the survey reveals that the top three reasons cited for barriers against further adoption are: Not familiar with using mobile data, not having a smartphone and expensive data plans.

The study also interestingly revealed the different reasons for the barrier to adoption according to age demographics. For example, youths between the ages of 15- and 24-years-old feel that data plans are too expensive; those between the ages of 25- and 34 years-old do not have a smartphone; and those above 35-years-old are not familiar with using mobile data.

“The information gap is also apparent when looking at barriers for potential users and rejecters, in particular among the older age segment. For the youngest age segment, the main barrier is the perceived expensive price of data plans,” said Ashton.

There is however good news for East Malaysia the survey suggests that there is potential for further take-up.

For instance, 68% of respondents said they would use social media as part of their planned mobile data usage areas, followed by 64% for surfing the Internet and 47% for reading the news.

Of the 68% of respondents saying they will use social media, 94% are between the ages of 15- and 24-years-old. This implies that given the relatively young age of East Malaysians, these figures can only improve given time.

Also encouraging is the fact that over half the respondents in the youth category would use their mobiles to access video and music online.

And interestingly, of the 47% of respondents wanting to read the news via mobiles, a healthy 65% of them are in the over 35-years-old category, the bracket that will likely have more disposable income.

“Social media is the major pull factor, especially among the youth. There’s also an opportunity for news among the older age group, between 45- and 64-years-old, and streaming video and music among youth,” Ashton said.

What must be done

The results of the survey show that there have to be at least three things that must happen before East Malaysians can further tap into mobile broadband. Firstly operators must tailor-make plans and further segmentise the market so that more users, especially the youths, can get access to connectivity via social media apps.

Secondly, operators need to further educate their user base, especially the more senior ones, in order that they may know what they can do with their smartphones besides just basic connectivity.

Lastly, handset makers need to continue to bring affordable devices to the people and ensure that they can easily understand how to use their smartphones for productivity more.

By doing this effectively, the digital divide gap can be closed much more effectively than before.

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