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Thai’s Tied to the Mobile Phone

November 22, 2019

The author was waiting in the departure lounge at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi airport and noticed the headline Thailand is the Second-Largest Internet Economy in Southeast Asia which was a lead in the November 1, 2019 edition of The Bangkok Post. After scanning the headline and then noting the statistics in the article, it was amazing to learn that Thailand ranks first globally in international mobile internet usage. Now, we have all stumbled into people walking down the street with their faced buried in their cell phone, but who would have thought Thailand led the list?

Before reading the article, I looked up to see a middle-aged Thai couple standing next to each other and talking while looking at their respective mobile phones. If you examine the photo closely, you will note the tall guy behind them is doing the same since he does not have his head bent over chanting a Buddhist yantra. As there was a Scandinavian tour on the flight, he most likely is Scandinavian. Therefore, we have a real-life example that supports the findings that Thais look at their phones more than twice the rate of the western world. Statisticians would likely argue that the sample size was too limited to be significant but it certainly bears out the findings of the more complete study.

In today’s Thailand, the addiction to mobile phones begins at a young age as evidenced by the youngster shown below who we encountered in the Aviv 8 watering hole in Bangkok’s Jatujak Weekend Market. 

On November 12, 2019, The Bangkok Post published an article on the front page entitled Doc Warns Teen Phone Addicts addressing the growing number of youngsters, especially university students suffering “trigger fingers” and other muscle-related problems as the time they spend on smart phones increases. At risk are those who use phones for prolonged periods, bending their necks and elbows and tapping fingers on screens to text long messages. The student below highlights several consequences following the modernization of Bangkok-face masks to ward off the increasing pollution and the addiction to mobile phones.

A report jointly commissioned by Google, Temasek and Bain & Company, monitors the growth of internet usage and its impact on the economy. The report indicated that Thailand was the most engaged mobile internet country in the world with 5 hours and 13 minutes per day spent on digital services. Residents of ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) tend to spend more time with platforms linked to news services which is unique to the region and likely reflects the accuracy of local news accounts. The hourly, daily usage by certain Southeast Asian countries is shown relative to an average worldwide number of 3:13 and 2:24 for the United States.

Moreover, the report projected that Thailand’s internet economy is expected to reach US$ 16 billion in 2019 based on flourishing ride-hailing services and e-commerce which would rank the country as the second largest internet economy in Southeast Asia following that of Indonesia. To put that statistic in context, Indonesia has a population of 260 million and a GDP of $1 trillion making it the fourth most populated country in the world and the largest economy of ASEAN. Thailand, by contrast, has a population of 68 million and a GDP of $487 billion resulting in a significantly higher per capita income to afford greater luxuries.

The table below shows historic and projected growth for selected countries in ASEAN.

Given the congestion in Thailand, one would suspect that an interest in instant gratification and convenience drives the Thai growth rate. For example, ride-hailing in Thailand should reach $1.3 billion in 2019. Online media (advertising, gaming, and subscriptions for music, video and on-demand) should be $3 billion this year. The largest and most mature sector of online travel (flights, hotels and vacation rentals) is the largest sector at $7.2 billion of gross bookings.

Who would have thought back in the old days, when a mobile phone was the size of a suitcase, that the usage and impact on the Thai economy would be what it is today. Since most mobile phone chips are made in the generally congested Far East, it would only stand to reason that the heart of the demand should be close to home.

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