ASEAN Watch: What the Digital Landscape Looks Like in Southeast Asia

Homegrown start-ups are seeing opportunities and solving problems in the region

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BY Marishka M. Cabrera - 08 Aug 2017

asean digital landscape

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Southeast Asia is anything but homogenous. It is a region of diverse cultures, languages, and dynamic stages of economic development. The past couple of years have seen the region experience rapid growth in digital activity, with Internet connectivity, mobile phone adoption, and social media use driving the phenomenon.

Many Southeast Asian countries are a mobile-first market, leapfrogging desktops altogether. In Myanmar, for instance, until mid-2014, only 7% of the 53 million Burmese population owned a mobile phone, according to this Inc. Southeast Asia article. Now, however, there are some 50 million mobile subscriptions in Myanmar, owing to the fact that prices of SIM cards have dropped to $1-1.50 from $500-$1,000 and 3G and 4G are suddenly available.

“People access the Internet on mobile, and that number has leapfrogged to around 80 to 90 percent of the population over the course of just two and a half years. It’s growth like nothing else I’ve seen or heard of,” says Jes Kaliebe Petersen, accelerator director at tech start-up incubator Phandeeyar.

It’s no surprise that start-ups are looking to take advantage of the massive opportunity in this untapped market. Myanmar-based fintech Wave Money offers mobile financial services, such as money transfer, bills payment, and top-ups. In Vietnam, there has been an upsurge of e-wallet and payment apps. Three-year-old MoMo, for example, is an e-wallet allowing users to pay for virtually anything. By the time their app was launched in 2014, smartphone penetration in the country had almost doubled.

Homegrown start-ups are not only adapting to the realities confronting the region, but are also trying to address the problems many Southeast Asians face.

Take Singapore-based Lenddo. It began in the Philippines when founders Jeffrey Stewart and Richard Eldridge were baffled that skilled employees in their business process outsourcing are unable to access credit and were constantly asking for salary advances. What they created was a credit-scoring system that uses non-traditional data—from social media, e-mail, and mobile phones—to assess the creditworthiness of an individual.

Indonesia’s Finaccel, meanwhile, is a fintech start-up enabling online shoppers to buy items on credit. The e-inc-aseann.commerce market in the region is booming, and yet, even in a country like Indonesia where the opportunity is huge, one major roadblock is the large gap in credit card penetration.

Needless to say, paving the path towards digitization is imperative for the region to survive and thrive in this digital economy, with some countries already more advanced than others.

Here are statistics on what the digital landscape looks like in Southeast Asia, based on data from WeAreSocial and Hootsuite:


Total population: 15.95 million

Internet users: 7.16 million

Internet penetration: 45%

Active social media users: 4.9 million

Mobile subscriptions: 27.60 million



Total population: 262 million

Internet users: 132.7 million

Internet penetration: 51%

Active social media users: 106 million

Mobile subscriptions: 371.4 million



Total population: 30.96 million

Internet users: 22 million

Internet penetration: 71%

Active social media users: 22 million

Mobile subscriptions: 42.93 million



Total population: 54.6 million

Internet users: 14 million

Internet penetration: 26%

Active social media users: 14 million

Mobile subscriptions: 50.56 million



Total population: 103 million

Internet users: 60 million

Internet penetration: 58%

Active social media users: 60 million

Mobile subscriptions: 129.4 million



Total population: 5.74 million

Internet users: 4.71 million

Internet penetration: 82%

Active social media users: 4.4 million

Mobile subscriptions: 8.44 million



Total population: 68.22 million

Internet users: 46 million

Internet penetration: 67%

Active social media users: 46 million

Mobile subscriptions: 90.94 million



Total population: 94.93 million

Internet users: 50.05 million

Internet penetration: 53%

Active social media users: 46 million

Mobile subscriptions: 124.7 million

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