Southeast Asia: Connecting the dots between economic activity and mobile experience

When Opensignal compares countries on mobile network experience — for example in our State of Mobile Network Experience report or recently in our new mobile Games Experience report, the same countries are often in the lower ranks and similarly a group of wealthier countries such as Singapore, Japan, or the Netherlands routinely come top. 

Fast growing and fast improving countries like the Philippines or Indonesia sometimes appear to offer a poor mobile experience. However, this isn’t the only way to make a comparison. Small, wealthy, countries such as Singapore have many advantages because of their very compact geography and high gross domestic product (GDP) levels which enable their operators to invest more easily in the latest network equipment. So, Opensignal has analyzed countries alongside their GDP to allow for these differences.

We found a strong correlation between mobile Download Speed Experience and the GDP per capita of countries across southeast and south Asia. Our approach revealed a completely different landscape compared with looking at Download Speed Experience, Games Experience or other measures of mobile network experience in isolation. 

While the Philippines ranked towards the bottom out of one hundred countries in Games Experience, when users’ Download Speed Experience is compared with GDP per capita, the Philippines is in the middle of the pack. Its users’ speeds were fractionally lower than Indonesia, but Indonesia has a higher GDP. The contrast with Malaysia is even more stark: although Malaysia has much higher GDP per capita, its users’ download speeds are only a little faster than the Philippines. 

We compared members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and neighboring countries that are part of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) for this analysis.

There also appears to be a link between a country’s population density and its users’ mobile download speeds. Countries with more dense populations tend to enjoy faster speeds, most likely because it is easier to serve dense urban populations than offer mobile connectivity in rural areas through jungle, mountains and areas with weak electrical infrastructure. Again, this helps to explain why Singapore often ranks so highly in global comparisons.

When we compare ASEAN and SAARC countries using population density, we again find that countries like the Philippines are again in the middle. This is where we would expect given the Philippines' population density and the correlation we have found between population density and download speed across countries. 

But, it’s possible to buck the GDP and population density trend, indicating that countries that implement their mobile networks shrewdly can rise up the international rankings. In our analysis, Myanmar, Vietnam and Laos all offer users a Download Speed Experience higher than would be predicted from GDP per capita or population densities.

With new connectivity investments going into Indonesia, such as the Palapa Ring, new competition to arrive in the Philippines, and moves to alter the way mobile spectrum is auctioned to make the Malaysian 5G roll out smoother, there are many strategic initiatives that the organisers of these moves — for example governments or regulators — hope will accelerate mobile network improvements in other countries in the region. Although, there’s also risk market interventions could adversely affect the experience too. It’s all to play for!