SHANGHAI: The Asia Pacific region now accounts for half of the world's mobile subscribers and will be one of the fastest growing and most innovative markets for the next five years or more a new report has said.

According to Mobile Economy Asia Pacific 2014, from the GSMA which represents the interests of mobile operators worldwide, there were 1.7bn unique mobile subscribers in the Asia Pacific region at the end of 2013, accounting for half the global subscriber base.

This figure is expected to grow by 5.5% a year (CAGR) until 2020, reaching 2.4bn; only Sub-Saharan African is expected to grow at a faster rate.

The majority of Asia Pacific mobile subscribers are concentrated in four major markets – China, India, Japan and Indonesia – which together account for three quarters of the region's subscribers and over a third of the global subscriber base.

There is also a huge diversity in the level of development in individual markets. Subscriber penetration was above 90% in Japan, for example, but less than 15% in Myanmar.

The report described countries such as Australia, Japan, Singapore and South Korea as "digital pioneers" which were rolling out 4G capabilities. A country like India, on the other hand, was a "discoverer" market, where mobile operators were focused on building-out networks to rural areas and offering affordable mobile broadband services.

The variety of markets across the region is a major factor in how it is developing, according to Anne Bouverot, director general of the GSMA. "Innovation in the region is happening at many levels, from leading the way in advanced super-fast mobile services in mature markets to providing essential services such as education, healthcare and banking in the developing world," she said.

The report found rapid subscriber migration to 3G/4G mobile broadband networks across the Asia Pacific region, both in advanced and emerging markets. Just over a quarter of the 3.4bn mobile connections at the end of 2013 were 3G, while a mere 3% were 4G. But by 2020, these figures were forecast to rise to 34% and 28% respectively.

South Korea has the world's most advanced 4G market with, uniquely, 100% cent of its population covered by 4G networks. And at the end of 2013, over half of all mobile connections there were running on 4G networks.

Mobile operators in China were only awarded 4G licences in December 2013, and the GSMA projected that there would be almost 900m 4G mobile connections in the country by the end of 2020, up from around 100m in 2014.

Data sourced from GSMA; additional content by Warc staff