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Two men dressed as Indian religious figures check their mobile phones.
Reuters/Anindito Mukherjee
Even the gods would approve.
INDIA'S LIFT-OFF

Asia’s mobile market is finally seeing its long-promised explosion

By Leo Mirani

More than half of all new mobile phone subscriptions sold in the first quarter of this year came from Asia, according to the Ericsson Mobility Report (pdf), a biannual study of how the world uses mobile phones. Asians bought 70 million of the 120 million new subscriptions.

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That may not sound surprising: After all, Asia accounts for more than half the world’s population. But look closer at the numbers and it becomes clear that there is a significant shift underway: Asia has grown more dominant. Indeed, it was the only region other than North America to record growth compared with the same quarter last year. Even in Africa, where the mobile telecom market has seen remarkable growth in the past, net subscriber additions declined by 1 million over the same quarter last year.

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The balance of power is shifting within Asia too, with India overtaking China’s growth in new subscriptions. This year, India alone signed up more new subscribers than all of Africa, accounting for 28 million of Asia’s 70 million new subscriptions. China chalked up 19 million. Contrast that to last year, when the picture was reversed. In the first quarter of 2013, China accounted for 30 million of Asia’s 67 million new subscriptions, and India accounted for just 10 million.

Nor is the growth isolated just to India. Last year, the top five countries included Nigeria and Brazil, but this year the top spots were all in Asia: India (28 million), China (19 million), Indonesia (7 million), Thailand (6 million) and Bangladesh (4 million).

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Not all of these represent entirely new users. Consumers in developing countries often buy more than one SIM card to take advantage of different rates for different purposes—one provider might offer better prices for texting, for example, while another a cheaper tariff for long-distance call. But even accounting for some doubles, there is clearly a shift in Asia’s drivers of growth.