Having lived in Jakarta for most of my career, the legendary commute with the obligatory traffic jams made me turn to mobile internet for many of my personal and work needs, like email, Twitter, news browsing, and traffic info services like Infoll and Lewatmana. This is one of the reasons mobile internet has surged in Jakarta, and is only pushed higher by cheaper data rates, addiction to social networks and location-based services (which are only relevant on mobile-internet enabled devices).
Then, what happens in a city where the commute (and traffic) is not so bad, and you can get a WiFi connection virtually at any coffee shop, restaurant or mall in the city?
The Vietnamese in Ho Chí Minh City are big Facebook and online forum users, but they’d be more inclined to access those services on a computer or a laptop rather than their mobile phone. BlackBerry users – almost ubiquitous in Jakarta – are almost non-existent, and although iPhones and high-end Nokias abound, you’d be hard-pressed to see them accessing the internet on their phone. But give the Vietnamese a chance, and anywhere they get the opportunity to get an internet connection, they’ll be accessing Facebook, online forums, or playing some online games.
According to this article by Nielsen Consumer Research, even though 3G services have launched in Vietnam since 2009, the majority of users simply don’t use data services like email, mobile internet, or even MMS/picture messaging, although they obviously know that their phones can do all those things. The lack of mobile internet adoption can probably be attributed to the lack of promotion (and lack of mobile-specific services) by the operator — but it can also simply be caused by the lack of need from local consumers.
In my observation, there are two things that might also discourage mobile internet adoption in Vietnam:
1. Vietnam has a very active internet industry, yet the content and services it creates is almost exclusively for a Vietnamese audience. The low number of English-speaking internet users naturally makes them gravitate towards local sites and international companies which have strong localization also do well. The same cannot be said for mobile internet: there are almost no Vietnamese-specific mobile internet services, and thus no interest.
2. The second point would be, if it doesn’t take you that long to get anywhere (unlike Jakarta), why bother looking up something on your phone when you can just drop by the nearest place with WiFi and look it up then?
An additional point might be The Motorcycle Effect. Most people in Vietnam ride a motorcycle everywhere, so browsing on the phone is out of the question, yet I see people calling and SMSing on their phones while riding their motorcycles every day.
So the question remains: Are long commutes and traffic jams part of the reason for rising mobile internet adoption in some Asian markets? Comments, please.
About the author: Ario Tamat is a media professional, a veteran of Indonesia’s digital music and mobile industry and now working in Vietnam’s movie and media business.
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