KARACHI: The cellular mobile operators (CMOs) lost more than three million subscriptions but registered sustained growth in their broadband user base during April, according to unaudited figures released by the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA).
The overall cellular subscriber base shrank by more than 2% to 132 million subscriptions in April compared to 135 million in the previous month, indicating a continuous impact of the biometric re-verification of subscriber identity module (SIM) cards, which ended in the same month.
However, the five mobile operators added or converted nearly one million users to their next-generation mobile network – third generation (3G) and Long Term Evolution (LTE) or 4G technologies – in April.
The number of mobile broadband users (3G and 4G combined) increased by 8% to 13 million at the end of April compared to 12 million in the preceding month. This is the first public data of telecom subscribers since the completion of the biometric re-verification drive, which means the numbers are very close to the actual position of the industry. Final figures will be revealed after a third party audit is conducted.
Under its National Action Plan, the government had directed CMOs to re-verify 103 million SIMs through the BVS technology by April 12 – the directive came after the December 16, 2014 terrorist attack on Peshawar’s Army Public School.
The CMOs blocked millions of SIMs that were disowned or remained unverified, resulting in a decline in the overall user base. Moreover, the cellular operators were barred from selling new SIMs through retail channels, which further slowed their sales.
The PTA has announced it will have the final figures audited by a third party and it has initiated the process by inviting expressions of interest from potential bidders.The audited figures will show the exact picture of the industry and the data will be organic, which means it will also include the number of CNICs (individuals) and the number of SIMs issued against them.
According to PTA sources, the industry had verified more than 60 million CNICs and more than 77 million SIMs until April 12 – the deadline for the second phase of biometric re-verification.
The latest figures are higher than the actual numbers because they may also include SIMs that were active even for one day during the last three months, sources say. The cellular industry considers a SIM active even if one activity is noted on that particular number in the last 90 days. A lot of these SIMs will be blocked as part of the drive in coming days.
As of April 30, Mobilink had 38.1 million subscriptions and retained its position as market leader. Telenor was the second largest operator with 37.3 million connections followed by Zong that finished the month with 27.2 million SIMs on its network. Unlike top three operators who were able to retain most of their users, Ufone lost more than three million users and stood fourth with 18.2 million subscriptions. Warid Telecom, too, lost close to a million users to 10.9 million subscribers at the end of April.
In the mobile broadband segment, Telenor Pakistan was dominating with 3.8 million 3G users followed by Zong that had 3.4 million users as of April. Mobilink had three million users on its 3G network while Ufone had 2.5 million subscriptions. Ufone was the only player that saw a decline in its 3G users compared to the previous month. The number of 4G or LTE users, too, surged by 44% to 141,000 at the end of April, compared to 98,000 in the previous month, shared between Zong and Warid.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 12th, 2015.
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