Thailand was relatively successful in containing the coronavirus pandemic in 2020, with widespread preventative measures limiting the local infection rates. The closure of public venues and businesses also forced Thai citizens to find new ways to purchase goods and services and entertain themselves, often using smartphones connected to increasingly fast and widely available mobile networks.
Thailand maintained high rates of mobile phone penetration even before the onset of coronavirus, boasting almost 91m mobile connections in 2020 (72% are pre-paid) amongst a population of just under 70m people, according to GSMA Intelligence. Numbers compiled by GlobalWebIndex for the third quarter of 2020 also suggest that many Thai Internet users own multiple devices, predominantly smartphones (99%) followed by laptops or desktop computers (48%) and tablets (35%).
They also spend an average of five hours and seven minutes per day browsing the web on mobile devices. Figures from App Annie estimate the number of hours Thai citizens collectively spent using Android mobile phones in 2020 grew 25% year on year to 58.8bn hours, for example.
Big increase in network capacity
Continuing high levels of mobile Internet usage in Thailand is partly down in part to the reach and capacity of its cellular networks, the average speed of which has accelerated sharply in the last twelve months. Ookla tests run in January 2021 calculate that average download rates almost doubled to 52Mbit/s compared to the previous year.
Leading Thai carrier TrueMove launched its high-speed mobile services using its fifth-generation (5G) infrastructure called True5G in August 2020 followed by AIS launching theirs in October 2020[i]. Rival operator DTAC estimates that almost half of Thailand’s population will eventually be served by its 5G radio access network (RAN), starting with The Bangkok Metropolitan area, the Thai central plains, and its eastern economic and industrial region.[ii] Even where 5G is not available, data coverage and download speeds are good – GSMA Intelligence suggests that 99% of the country’s mobile broadband connections were 3G/4G/5G enabled as of January 2021.
Though fixed broadband capacity remains significantly faster (averaging 308Mbit/s according to Ookla tests), there is evidence to suggest that the smartphone is still the device of choice for most Thai citizens. According to Statcounter, the volume of web traffic served to mobile phones in Thailand grew 35% between December 2019 and December 2020 to reach 60% of the total. By contrast, the proportion of web traffic served to browsers on the laptop and desktop PCs shrank 30% over the same period.
Mobile shopping and banking tools rank high in app downloads
Thais also downloaded 2.1bn mobile apps from Apple and Google Play app stores in 2020, spending an estimated US$840m in the process, according to App Annie. The most popular categories were entertainment and video (used by 88% of Thai Internet users aged 16 to 64 according to GlobalWebIndex), shopping apps (83%), games (69%), banking and financial services (68%) and health, fitness and nutrition (32%). Almost half (45%) also used a mobile payment service such as Apple Pay, Google Pay or Samsung Pay in the third quarter of 2020, estimates the company.
App Annie’s statistics suggest that social media and messaging apps dominated monthly active users during 2020. But other popular choices included mobile shopping apps from Alibaba Group (Lazada) and SEA (Shopee), alongside bank-owned mobile banking apps like K Plus (Kasikornbank) and SCB Easy (Siam Commercial Bank). Two more banking apps – Wallet by TrueMoney and MyMo by GSB (government savings bank) made the top ten ranked by the number of downloads, with video streaming apps WeTV (Tencent), Netflix and PCCW’s VIU high on the list according to consumer spending.
A significant majority (82%) of Thai citizens aged over 15 have accounts with a financial institution. Yet at the same time, only 10% own credit cards according to World Bank financial inclusion data accessed in January 2021, with almost as many (8%) having mobile money accounts or electronic wallets (eWallets, excluding Apple, Google or Samsung Pay). LINE Pay, AirPay, mPay and PaySocial are all popular examples of these alongside TrueMoney and MyMo.
It looks like those mobile money accounts and eWallets are being put to good use in purchasing goods and services online in Thailand. Statista’s estimates that just under 34m Thai consumers collectively purchased US$7.3m of goods via all online channels in 2020, with pandemic lockdown restrictions and the closure of physical stores pushing the figure up 43% year on year.
Smartphones are again at the core of that activity. GlobalWebIndex calculates that 74% of Internet users aged between 16 and 64 purchased a product using their mobile phone in the third quarter of 2020. As the price of handsets continues to fall in tandem with the extended reach and capacity of mobile phone networks in Thailand, the volume of goods and services brought and paid for via mCommerce channels is set to increase again this year.
In its 2020 E-commerce Payments Trends Report, JP Morgan suggested Thailand was already a “mobile-first” country for online shopping, with further growth set to be driven by the growing adoption of digital payment methods. The financial services firm estimates that the value of mCommerce specifically will expand at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 12.2% from US$15.8bn in 2019 to be worth US$25bn by 2023.
[i] AIS launches 5G commercial deals, Bangkok Post, 2nd October 2020
[ii] Ericsson to power DTAC 5G network in Thailand, ComputerWeekly.com, 4th January 2021