KARACHI: The headcount of mobile phone users swelled to around 140 million in Pakistan at the end of fiscal year 2016-17 as growing digital economy and social networking kept attracting new subscribers.
The total number of mobile phone subscribers reached 139.75 million in the fiscal year ended June 30, 2017, close to an all-time high of 139.97 million in FY14, according to the telecom regulator on Tuesday.
The Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) cancelled millions of suspected fake and illegal cellular connections in FY14 after their users failed to prove their identity via biometric verification.
The verification drive caused a significant 18% drop in cellular connections as subscribers dipped to 114.65 million in FY15. The campaign came in the wake of growing terrorist activities, street crimes and money extortion as mafias used illegally acquired SIMs. To get rid of them, the government and the PTA undertook a biometric verification campaign and cut off millions of suspected network connections.
The cellular industry has now recovered on the back of a fast growing digital economy and popularity of social networking.
The State Bank of Pakistan (SBP), in its latest quarterly report on the state of economy, said: “Going forward, recently introduced Digital Pakistan Policy 2017 would provide a platform for sustainable development of the (telecom) sector while continuous improvement in voice traffic and broadband is expected to keep augmenting telecom revenues and its contribution to the national exchequer.”
Subscriptions slow down
The subscription of new mobile connections, however, slowed down significantly in FY17. The year saw a growth of just 5%, meaning an addition of 6.51 million new phone connections.
In comparison, the preceding fiscal year 2016 recorded a year-on-year growth of 16% or addition of 18.58 million new connections.
Experts were of the view that the slowdown may be attributed to the compulsory biometric verification, restriction on SIM connections to a maximum of five for a subscriber compared to unlimited connections in FY14, near-saturation in major cities and slow pace of penetration by cellular firms in semi-urban and rural areas.
The growth in mobile phone internet connections has also slowed down significantly, but the number of broadband connections touched a new high of 42.08 million in FY17.
In the year, 12.55 million new 3G/4G connections were acquired against 16.03 million in the preceding fiscal year.
Over 30% of the cellular phone users are now using internet on the phone as well. Last year, the ratio was 22%, according to the PTA.
The central bank in its report said: “After the introduction of next generation mobile services in the country in 2014, the 3G/4G technologies have been well received by the customers. The growth of 35% in July-March FY17 builds upon the impressive performance experienced in FY16 (when the subscription numbers grew around 118%).”
Experts say the use of cellular internet has gone up with a significant rise in the use of apps like Skype and WhatsApp and increase in business activities like e-commerce, e-banking, mobile phone-led branchless banking and dispatch of money via services like easypaisa.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 2nd, 2017.