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There are more mobile phones in the Philippines than people. And there are a lot of people.

This is one of the amazing statistics of our current era, in which the compulsion for humans to communicate is leading us into the realm of massive data flows in an increasingly interconnected world.

The Philippine phenomenon is due in part to the presence of two dominant mobile carriers-and a third that nips strongly at their heels-who charge extra fees for texts and calls outside of their networks. About 96% of this traffic is from prepaid traffic, in which users "load" up their phones from ubiquitous small stores in increments of less than one US dollar.

Similar noteworthy statistics are found elsewhere in Southeast Asia.

  • Indonesia, for example, was sending out 385 tweets per second in 2013, grabbing 7.5% of global Twitter traffic. Other strong social-media numbers have led to many there referring to their country as "the social media capital of the world." With overall wired Internet access still lacking, more than 60% of Indonesia's social traffic is mobile.

  • Thailand claims 97% of its population on social media, with prepaid SIM card system like the Philippines, and easy roaming throughout neighboring countries.

  • Malaysia has a higher average income than most of its neighbors, and Vietnam a lower one, but both also contribute to an Asian average of more than 360MB of data use per month on mobile devices.

  • Singapore is of course the great economic power of the region, with a per-person income level that now surpasses that of the United States. Singapore has among the fastest Internet access in the world and is moving toward being a Smart City through use of IoT technology.

The average mobile data use in Asia is more than three times that of North America, almost 20 times that of Europe, and 200 times that of Africa. As I noted above, amazing.

Heat, Noise, and Startups
The hyperkinetic nature of Southeast Asian nations-the traffic, noise, masses of people, and heat can easily overwhelm on a short-term basis and grind one down over the long term-is reflected in recent economic growth through the region. Our research at the Tau Institute shows the region to be the most dynamic in the world, even as clear infrastructure problems are apparent everywhere outside of Singapore.

This energy is also reflected in a growing culture of startups and innovation. I recently attended a startup competition in Manila, which is part of a larger event called the Top 100 program.

The Top 100 program culminates in Singapore June 23-24, where 100 companies from a field of 300 among 14 Asian nations will compeete for attention from investors. The competition goes beyond Southeast Asia, with teams from India, Bangladesh, Kazakhstan, Taiwan, Japan, and South Korea joining in the fun.

Much of the fun will be focused on mobile apps, because mobility is huge and apps are cool. Apps also seem to lack the barriers to entry of creating the next great piece of enterprise software. I would like to see more of an emphasis on frameworks and platforms, and a greater presence of all the open-source companies we see in the US.

I am also encouraging people to pursue innovation within their organizations. Even as I marvel at the energy and enthusiasm of the startup communities in Manila and elsewhere, the reality is that large governmental organizations and big companies are the primary employers throughout this massive region. Innovation need not be a stranger to them.


 


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