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In his recent book, The Future Is Asian, international relations analyst Parag Khanna contends that Asia is once again becoming the center of gravity for the world’s economic and political systems.

And, because of the huge size and growth potential of Asia’s telecoms market, as well as the region’s leading role in 5G deployment and take-up, and the fact that Asia is home to operators such as Reliance Jio and Rakuten that are at the forefront of innovation in the sector, the future of telecoms is also looking Asian. 

There were 5.4 billion mobile subscriptions in Asia at the end of 2Q20, accounting for 58% of the global total of 9.2 billion, according to Omdia research. And Omdia forecasts that Asia will add a further 600 million mobile subscriptions over the coming five years to reach almost 6 billion at the end of 2025.

Although Asian economies have been hit by COVID-19, as have those in other regions, China’s economy looks to be leading the recovery in Asia and globally. The IMF’s most recent World Economic Outlook, published in June, forecasted that China will see economic growth of 1% in 2020, in contrast to the economic contraction expected in all other major markets. In 2021, economic growth in China will rebound to 8.2%, according to the IMF.

Mobile subscription numbers in China returned to growth in 2Q20, as the lockdown in the country was relaxed, and Omdia is expecting there to be strong growth in mobile 5G connections in China over the remainder of 2020 and beyond, driven by the Chinese operators’ ambitious 5G network roll outs and rising 5G handset shipments.

In India, in a powerful endorsement of Reliance’s plans to bring digital services to Jio’s customer base of almost 400 million mobile subscribers, a raft of global investors ploughed $20 billion into Reliance Jio earlier this year. The biggest investors in Jio were Facebook (with an investment of $5.8 billion), and Google, with $4.5 billion. In July, Google’s chief executive Sundar Pichai said the company plans to invest $10 billion in India over the coming years, to tap into the growth opportunities in the country’s digital economy.

The path ahead might not be entirely smooth. Growing tensions between China and the US, as well as between China and other Asian powers—notably India—are having an impact on the telecoms and technology sectors in the region, and globally. Additionally, some economies look fragile: India’s economy contracted by almost 24% in 2Q20 as the result of a strict COVID-19 lockdown. But the direction of travel is clear: eastward.

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