LIVE FROM GSMA MOBILE WORLD CONGRESS SHANGHAI: The number of mobile subscribers in Asia Pacific will grow to 3.1 billion by 2020, as almost three quarters of the population are signed up for mobile services, according to new figures from GSMA Intelligence.

This compares with 2.5 billion at the end of 2015, representing 62 per cent of the population.

“More than half the world’s mobile subscribers are based in Asia Pacific and the region will be the main engine of global subscriber growth for the remainder of the decade,” said Mats Granryd, GSMA director general.

“Mobile is helping Asia build digital societies that allow its citizens to access services, anytime and anywhere – and these mobile-powered digital societies are becoming major drivers of social and economic development,” he continued.

Mobile broadband (3G/4G) accounted for 45 per cent of total mobile connections in the region last year, which is forecast to rise to 70 per cent by 2020 as operators invest in 4G networks and subscribers migrate to higher-speed networks.

According to the Mobile Economy: Asia Pacific 2016 report, at the end of 2015 there were 76 live 4G-LTE networks and 20 live VoLTE markets. 4G migration is gathering pace in markets including Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines and Thailand.

And 4G pioneers such as South Korea, Japan and China are now pressing ahead with 5G.

Last year, $1.3 trillion in economic value was generated by Asia Pacific’s mobile industry, which is expected to rise to $1.7 trillion by 2020 as the region continues to benefit from the improvements in productivity and efficiency made possible by increased take-up of mobile services and the adoption of new offerings such as machine-to-machine.

But despite the impressive numbers, the region is not without its challenges.

“The mobile industry must work with regulators and ecosystem players to address the key barriers to digital inclusion in Asia Pacific, such as lack of locally relevant content, affordability and lack of digital skills,” Granryd said.