The Growth of Mobile Technology in Thailand

September 27, 2016
by John Websell

In the past few years, mobile technology has become increasingly ubiquitous in Thailand as smartphone’s become ever more useful; as much personal computer as telecommunications device these days. The topic of today’s post discusses the promulgation of smartphone technology in Thailand, and how this technology will develop in the region going forward.

Before starting, it’s worth remembering that the increasing popularity of the mobile device isn’t unique to Asia. Statistics show that the smartphone is the fastest-selling gadget in history outperforming the traditional desktop computer by a ratio of 4:1. In terms of percentage, this means approximately 50% of the global adult population currently own a smartphone; a number predicted to rise to a staggering 80% by 2020. While this is fascinating reading for technophiles and businesses alike, the present and potential impact of the technology on a developing nation like Thailand is extremely interesting, hence our emphasis on that country today.

Mobile popularity on the rise

In 2014, the number of people purchasing high-end mobile technology and accessing the internet on a regular basis vastly increased Thailand. Statistics obtained by a Pew Research Centre report there are a staggering 97 million mobile subscriptions in the country, 86% of which are pre-paid plans. As a result, over 25% of the Thai population (that’s 23 million people) access the internet via some form of mobile device on a regular basis, significantly increasing marketing opportunities in the region.

Overall, smartphone penetration has increased by 5% since the 2014 survey cited above, with the total number of mobile users predicted to reach 50% by 2019. Although this might seem rather low, this actually puts Thailand amongst the top 10 of the 32 developing nations polled in the survey for owning a smartphone device.

That being said, in 2014 the average person in the country still spent slightly more time browsing the net on their desktop computer rather than a smartphone, contrary to countries like the US in which 51% of internet searches are conducted on a mobile device. Even so, this minute disparity – an average 5 ½ hours a day on desktop compared to 4 on mobile devices – is certain to swing the other way in coming months and years, falling in line with the global trend.

Smartphone behaviour and influencers

Whereas some countries prefer to check the news, monitor bank accounts, or even make purchases online, Thailand favours social media when it comes to smartphone usage. 77% of people said they preferred to engage in social media activity on their phones rather than any of the above activities, the majority of which are younger people aged 18-34, those educated to a higher degree, and individuals with English language skills. Predictably, Facebook is the leading platform, though Google+ is a surprising second, ahead of the likes of Twitter and LinkedIn for interaction. Meanwhile, in contrast to the countries evidently gregarious lifestyle, less than half of the Thai population text regularly, presumably conversing with friends, family, and colleagues using social media platforms instead.

More interestingly still, a substantial number of people say they regularly shop via social networks, rather than more traditional ecommerce platforms – IT gadgets and mobile phones being two of the most purchased items from these sources. Improved convenience, eye-catching promotions, and a perception that online payments are safer when transacted on these sites are the most frequently cited reasons for this rather anomalous behaviour.

From a business perspective, this predilection for social media is extremely good news for company’s looking to prioritise social media marketing in the region. According to Social Times, firms will increase their social media marketing budget going forward, in an effort to capitalise on the trend. Furthermore, focussing on a developing nation like Thailand in particular, there’s evidence suggesting the GDP-per-person growth is faster in areas with greater smartphone usage, thanks to increased banking activities and similar behaviour. Therefore Thailand is perfect for both startup’s looking to operate in the region, and investors alike.

Internet usage

The internet’s influence on Thailand in general, and the population’s response to its emergence since the turn of the millennium, is equally remarkable. 95% of people in the country claim to belong to the Theraveda Buddhist religion, highlighting Thailand’s deeply religious and culturally rich past and present, but even so, response to the net has been impressively open-minded.

A recent report found that the majority of people in developing nations view the emergence of the internet as a positive thing, believing education, personal relationships, and economics particularly benefit from the technology; in Thailand specifically, 85% of the population feel the internet has improved society. This is reflected in a comparable statistic which claims 67% of people access the web in one way or another on a daily basis, primarily for social purposes as we saw earlier.

Considering internet penetration was as low as 3.7% in the year 2000, the aforementioned data is pretty astonishing; indeed, today the figure has increased to 42% in just 16 years. Granted, it’s still less than half and considerably behind Singapore, which has an 81% penetration rate, but with the numbers moving in the right direction, this isn’t much of an issue. Moreover, thanks to the country’s investment in infrastructure, internet availability in remoter regions is becoming more common, helped in part by the provision of free internet by the ICT Ministry. Combined with faster internet speeds (rising from 12 mbps to 19 in the last two years), businesses will have an even greater reach in the region over the coming years.

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