There has never been a more exciting time for the mobile broadband market than today. At the start of 2011, the mobile broadband market accounts for about 500 million subscribers worldwide, and this number is expected to reach a billion before the year ends. In the Asia Pacific region alone, mobile data revenues are expected to double in the next five years. However, there is still a huge disparity between emerging and developed economies, in terms of mobile broadband capabilities.

Mobile Broadband a Booming Market

According to equipment supplier Ericsson, the mobile broadband market is booming, having surpassed the half-billion mark at the start of 2011. This figure is said to double this year to 1 billion users, particularly with the popularity of various new mediums for communication, like video conferencing via mobile broadband networks. The popularity of smartphones, inexpensive netbooks and tablet computers also contributes to this growth.

Ericsson expects APAC to be a leader in terms of subscriber base, with 400 million users in APAC, followed by North America and Western Europe, each with 200 million subscribers.

Frost and Sullivan agree with this analysis, predicting that mobile data revenues in the APAC region will grow to almost double from this year up to end 2015. The mobile data market is said to grow from US$ 87.5 billion in 2010 to US$ 148.1 billion during this period. This does not even take into account a further increase from foreseen roaming charges across countries and carriers.

A Widening Gap

However, it's not all smooth sailing from this point. A big gap exists in terms of the mobile capabilities of developed and emerging economies in the Asia Pacific region. For example, the markets in developed countries like Japan, South Korea and China are currently focusing on more revenue growth. Meanwhile, in some emerging markets, like Bangladesh, Thailand and Pakistan, regulators have yet to issue mobile broadband licenses -- such as 3G -- which can help get the local markets primed for mobile broadband.

Learning Opportunities

Nicole McCormick, senior analyst at Ovum, highlights the challenges that the mobile markets in emerging APAC economies face. "Foreign investors tapping into the region must be wary that some emerging markets are still fraught with regulatory red tape, especially when it comes to 3G licensing," she said.

McCormick added that investors will have to decide between faster mobile broadband or settling for existing technologies that might be easier to implement. "[I]t's going to take some time for LTE consumer devices to become affordable for countries like Thailand and Bangladesh, leaving them with a dilemma - push ahead with 3G, or wait for LTE."

Mobile broadband is fast becoming a popular means to access data, which will especially be useful for cloud computing applications while on the go. For example, Google's Chrome OS, which is being road-tested in its recent release of the Cr-48 laptop, relies heavily on being connected via wireless or mobile networks, in order to work.

Mobile data is not a magic pill that can be all-encompassing, though. In the APAC market, one must take into consideration the specific nuances for any given country. Some will still need improvements in the mobile (and regulatory) infrastructure before mobile broadband can be good enough for such applications.