The Internet is in better health than ever. There are about 3.4 billion Internet users globally – about half the world’s population – many of whom are living a digital life. They are going online to watch movies, listen to music, play video games and they’re buying more than ever – so says leading Silicon Valley venture capitalist Mary Meeker in her annual Internet Trends report.

Each year, Meeker gives a breathtakingly comprehensive overview of the state of the Internet covering topics from smartphone growth and media habits to online advertising and how digital is influencing industries such as healthcare.

One key highlight that emerged is interactive gaming – a US$100bn business with 2.6bn gamers. In the 80s, gaming was about a solo gamer playing Pacman or Mario. Today it is a shared experience, with more people playing online than ever. Gamers take part in competitions, held in arenas watched by 1000’s with millions more tuning in online. 161m fans watch eSports monthly, a 40% hike from 2015. Meeker highlights gaming in particular, as techniques learnt can impact people’s lives. Games can be used in simulations to train fighter pilots and hone athletic skills, teach pattern recognition or let people learn by repetition.

Other highlights of the report include:

  • Voice searches are on the rise, with 20% of all queries made this way with an accuracy rate of 95%.
  • Global growth of smartphones is slowing, up only 3% from last year, down from about 27% and 11% in 2014 and 2015 respectively.
  • E-commerce continues to skyrocket, as demonstrated by parcel volume. In the US it topped 10bn last year, up 9% year on year. In fact, the unboxing of parcels has become entertainment in itself with the top 5 unboxing channels on YouTube attracting 33m subscribers in May 2017.
  • Eating in is the new eating out. Many high-end restaurants are now providing home delivery service.

Developing countries embracing digital innovation

In China, huge leaps have been made in online transportation and mobile payment technology.

  • The number of on-demand trips booked online reached 250m for just one quarter, more than anywhere else in the world.
  • China also leads the way in mobile payment innovations, with the big players Alipay and WeChat allowing customers to make everyday transactions with their smartphones.

India has experienced huge growth in eCommerce and in the smartphone space.

  • New mobile players have been opening up competition, with carrier Reliance Jio giving away free data and stealing millions of customers in the process. This has helped overall smartphone adoption in the country.
  • It’s also competition that is making eCommerce a huge business in India, with local players like Flipkart and Snapdeal going up against global giants Amazon.
  • What distinguishes India from the rest of Asia is the government’s pro-digital policies. Among them is a rollout of high speed broadband. Digital authentication via a smartphone for the 1bn+ population has been introduced (ahead of developed countries like Singapore), with 16 million authentications being carried out each day for transactions such as the opening of bank accounts.

While the report is silent on the rest of Asia, the trends are similar. Every Asian country has seen growth in Internet usage and users. As a result bricks and mortar retailers are struggling, replaced by e-commerce, where Asian brands like Taobao and Lazada rival Amazon. On-demand video and music has replaced TV and CDs and all countries are moving to high speed broadband with governments leading the way in digitising services.

For Asian observers, there are three areas that could be interesting to global brands and entrepreneurs.

  • Ad blocking is high in Asia. Indonesians block more ads than any other country (58% of mobile users), followed by Pakistan (38%). ‘Lite’ web and app versions of ads should be developed to avoid hogging bandwidth. They must also be optimised to work on slower 2G and 3G networks, which are still operating in Asian emerging markets.
  • Traffic congestion in major Asian cities like Kolkata, Mumbai, Dhaka, Manila and Jakarta present opportunities for entrepreneurs. Consumers are likely to be discouraged from out-of-home shopping, opening up e–commerce opportunities from home delivery to health care.
  • As a spin-off from the popular on-demand transportation services, other areas like handyman services, personal shopping and fitness are areas with potential.

Carriers will play a crucial role for digital services to work smoothly and without interruption. Who wants a dropped wifi connection just before buying the new pair of shoes? For digital services to work smoothly, network bandwidth is key. Carriers must ensure good coverage, offering high reliability and scalability especially with the explosion in digital entertainment and on-demand services in transportation and home services.