Digital 2012: Laos
Laos is one of Asia's poorer countries, with average income hovering just above US$3 per day.
Two-thirds of the population lives in one of Laos's 9,119 rural villages, and more than one-third of the population is below the age of 15.
Official figures indicate that internet penetration in Laos remains relatively low, at just 8% – almost 3½ times lower than the Asian average.
However, these figures are from late 2011, and we estimate that the real number of internet users in the country is now much higher than the 527,400 reported by the country's Ministry of Post & Telecommunications last December.
Meanwhile, the latest figures from Facebook indicate that at least a quarter of a million people in Laos use social networks, accounting for around 4% of the total population.
Critically, the number of Facebook users in Laos has jumped by 64% in the past 6 months, with approximately 581 Laotians signing up to the network every day – that's one new user every 2½ minutes.
The number of mobile subscribers in the country has also shown impressive growth since our last report at the end of 2011, with well over 1.5 million new mobile subscriptions delivering a jump of 43%.
Mobile penetration now stands at 83% of the population, up from 60% in our last report, with nearly 5½ million subscribers nationwide.
However, use of 3G services in Laos remains low, with estimates indicating that penetration is still less than 0.5%. 3G use has grown by almost 100% in the past 12 months though, and the ITU expects penetration to reach almost 20% within the next 3 years.
This has particular significance for Laotians, as it will bring internet services within reach for a far greater proportion of the population.
Access to infrastructure has been one of the biggest barriers to increased use of digital media in the country: according to data from Laos's Ministry of Post and Telecommunications, fixed line telephony services still reach less than 4% of the population, and fewer than 25,000 people had signed up for an internet service provider by March 2012.
Indeed, more than one-third of internet activity in Laos originates from mobile devices, and with desktops and laptops still beyond the financial means of most of Laos's citizens, mobile internet access holds the key to online growth.
The good news is that 3G services already reach 80% of Laos's population, and the government has a plan in place to extend this still further over the coming months.
Moreover, 4G services are already available in Laos's capital, Vientiane, making Laos only the second country in ASEAN to offer such services after Singapore.
We fully expect that access to these advanced mobile networks will deliver impressive growth in all areas of Laos's online ecosystem during 2013.
Click here to download a free PDF of the complete Laos 2012 report (you may need to sign in to SlideShare first).
This article first appeared on the We Are Social Blog.