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In some Southeast Asian markets, more than one in five of smartphone users connect to the Internet only on mobile networks

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In the latest regional benchmark analysis Opensignal looks at the proportions of smartphone users in ten Southeast Asian markets, who rarely or never connect to Wi-Fi services. The analysis shows a diverse picture between Southeast Asian markets — the percentage of mobile-only users ranges from less than 10% of total smartphone users in countries like Vietnam, Brunei, or the Philippines, to more than a quarter in markets like East Timor, Laos, Thailand or Malaysia. Analysis further reveals substantial differences between these proportions across users of different mobile networks within Southeast Asian markets.



Opensignal has previously analyzed the scale of mobile-only users across African markets. Now, we have performed a similar study of markets in Southeast Asia, segmenting them by the amount of time smartphone users spend connected to Wi-Fi. We focused on “mobile-only” smartphone users — those who never connect to Wi-Fi services and rely solely on mobile connectivity for data transmission. East Timor has the highest share of mobile-only smartphone users in Southeast Asia — almost 43% of smartphone users in this market rely only on mobile services to connect to the Internet — followed by Laos’s 32.6%. In both Thailand and Malaysia, more than one out of four smartphone users never connect to Wi-Fi services. On the other side of the spectrum, there are fewer than 10% mobile-only smartphone users in countries like Vietnam, Brunei, or the Philippines, which shows the major disparities between Southeast Asian markets.

Opensignal also looked at the percentage of users in these markets who connect to Wi-Fi services very sporadically — more than 0% and up to 10% of the time — which means they heavily rely on mobile service for the majority of their time. Indonesia and Malaysia have the highest share of such users, 22.5% and 21.8% respectively. 

In markets like Laos, Thailand, Malaysia, Cambodia, and Indonesia, more than 40% of smartphone users find either no or very limited use of Wi-Fi services — with this proportion reaching as high as 60% in East Timor — the sum of 42.9% of mobile-only smartphone users and 17.1% of those spending up to 10% of their time connected to Wi-Fi. Vietnam, the Philippines, and Brunei see the lowest proportions of users who never or very rarely connect to Wi-Fi services. In these markets, along with Singapore, more than half of smartphone users connect to Wi-Fi for more than 50% of the time.



We observe significant disparities between Southeast Asian markets, and substantial differences between mobile networks within the same markets. For example, in Cambodia — only 14.7% of our users on Cellcard never connect to Wi-Fi services and solely rely on mobile services when using the internet on their mobile devices — but this number is as high as 27.8% for Metfone. Malaysia is another example of a market with large disparities in the number of mobile-only users between national mobile operators — only 16.5% of mobile-only users on Unifi’s network and more than 30% of these on Yes and U Mobile’s network. Noteworthily, U Mobile has the largest share of smartphone users — 31.4% — who solely rely on its mobile network when connecting to mobile services on their mobile devices across all Southeast Asian markets.

In Thailand, TrueMove H has the lowest proportion of mobile-only users (24.6%), while DTAC has the largest one, of 31.2% — the second largest share of mobile-only users across all Southeast Asian markets. Meanwhile, all Filipino operators see less than 10% of mobile-only users on their network, with Smart observing the lowest proportion in the region — 5.9%.

Looking at the other side of consumer behavior — 63% of smartphone Viettel Mobile users connect to Wi-Fi services more than half of the time — which is the highest proportion of users in Southeast Asia. Other Vietnamese mobile operators — along with all Filipino networks, and Singapore’s M1 and Starhub — also see more half of their smartphone users connected to Wi-Fi that often.

The stark disparities in the proportions of mobile-only users between mobile operators within the same markets signify strong differences in their customer base — some networks have more customers in geographies where access to Wi-Fi and fixed broadband is very limited and the reliance on mobile services is much higher. Pricing and affordability of services is another factor to consider — operators that compete heavily on price or offer unlimited data packages are more likely to attract subscribers who cannot afford both a mobile and a fixed connection.


High dependence on mobile services to connect to the Internet among large proportions of users in Southeast Asia makes reliable mobile network services even more crucial for local users and national economies. Our users in the majority of Southeast Asian markets connect to 4G or better services 90% or more of the time, with countries like Indonesia or Malaysia gradually phasing out 3G networks. However, users in some markets still spend a substantial proportion of time connected to older network generations — 2G or 3G, which are much less capable than 4G. Time spent with no signal or on older network generations is high in markets like East Timor or Laos, which have substantial proportions of mobile-only smartphone users — so, sub-par quality of mobile services may affect the ability to seamlessly connect to the Internet in these markets for many mobile-only users.

For many Internet users in Southeast Asia — and worldwide, as well — sticking solely to mobile data services and never (or rarely) connecting to Wi-Fi is not always a matter of choice. Oftentimes, it is their primary or only way to connect to the Internet, as subscribing to both mobile and fixed services is unaffordable — or there is no viable alternative locally. Deployment of fixed broadband infrastructure requires hefty funding from the providers’ side, especially in rural and remote areas with low population densities, which are not likely to generate attractive returns on investment. This means mobile connectivity remains an essential means of connection to the Internet, especially in low and middle-income countries.