Social, Digital and Mobile in Indochina

by Simon Kemp in News

In today’s edition of our series of reports into the Social, Digital and Mobile landscape across Asia, we explore Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos:

Vietnam

Cambodia

Laos

As in our previous reports in the SDMA series, there are some impressive statistics in today’s decks.

The most important finding across all 3 countries – as elsewhere in Southeast Asia – is the dominance of mobile devices.

The number of mobile subscribers in Vietnam is greater than the total population, while 76% of Cambodians have a mobile phone. Even Laos – one of the world’s poorest nations – shows 60% mobile penetration.

This ‘mobile first’ landscape has interesting implications for the ways people use digital services, especially when we take into account the fact that the vast majority of the mobile devices across the Indochina region are feature phones.

This shouldn’t necessarily be seen as a limitation though; the demographic balance across this region is very heavily skewed towards the young (more than 50% of Cambodia’s population is below the age of 20), and, like their Indonesian counterparts, they show exceptional resourcefulness when it comes to accessing the web via these basic handsets.

It’s also worth noting that more than 70% of the population across these countries still lives in rural areas, where fixed-line infrastructure is often non-existent. Although internet cafés are not uncommon in these areas, it’s clear that mobile devices are a much more convenient portal to the opportunities offered by the internet.

Mobile phones are not just a means of communication in Indochina though; as in India, many people rely on their mobile phones to get work, and they are also a vital tool for many professional services.

However, it’s clear that the desire to connect with friends, peers and family lies at the heart of much Southeast Asian internet use. Indeed, social media appear to be driving adoption of the internet in Cambodia, with more people registered on Facebook than the ‘official’ number of internet users in the country (see slideshare decks above).

Meanwhile, instant messaging is still hugely popular in Vietnam, and a considerable volume of these interactions occur between mobile devices.

However, while many of these activities are common in other parts of the world too, it’s critical to understand that the context of their usage in Southeast Asia is very different.

In particular, with the majority of the population in Cambodia and Laos earning less than US$ 250 per month, internet usage is often driven by necessity rather than by curiosity. Although web access in these countries is usually cheap by Western standards, most of the region’s netizens must make important sacrifices in order to gain access.

However, some of the telcos in the region have understood the rising importance of social media in people’s lives, and have started offering ‘free’ data access to services such as Facebook as part of simple subscription packages, as a way of locking users in.

These services are not available to everyone, though, and we believe there are some interesting opportunities for brands to deliver value to key audiences by providing subsidised or free internet access – particularly on mobile devices. For example, brands could offer mobile data to customers in exchange for purchases, or as part of loyalty schemes.

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