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KARACHI, May 25: The number of mobile phone subscribers in Pakistan is much lesser than 10.5 million as being claimed by cell phone companies and relevant quarters. The figure, in fact, reflects the collective sale of SIMs (connections) and not the number of subscribers.

Analysts in the cellphone industry, while talking to APP, also questioned the claim of phenomenal growth of 110 per cent over the past 10 months.

They argued that while a subscriber could keep more than one connection, it could easily be understood that the figure of 10.5 million subscribers was an overestimate. “It may be true that 110 per cent increase in the sale of SIMs had been registered over the 10-month period, but it does not reflect this much increase in the number of subscribers,” they maintained.

They were of the view that a subscriber kept two or three SIMs of one or several phone companies for different reasons. They believed that the actual number of active cellphone users was not more than five million. Of them, the analysts said 98 per cent appeared subscribers of prepaid packages who would occasionally use their mobile phone to make calls due to heavy tariff. They would opt for the facility only to receive calls.

They pointed to the pre-paid top-up cards of a value as low as Rs10 for perpetual validity of cellular phone connection as an indication of actual state of affairs of the cellular market.

The analysts claimed that the intense incidence of churn in the cellular industry, aggregated by exorbitant tariffs especially for local calls, which were up to 10 times higher as compared to fixed line services, had restricted growth of the cellular industry. In order to bolster performance, the SIMs passed on to distribution channels are also being aggregated in the new subscribers count being presented by cellular companies, according to them.

The analysts pressed upon the PTA and the relevant ministries to undertake an independent audit to verify the claim by cellular mobile companies in this regard to ascertain the actual number of active cellular subscribers in the country.

They also pointed out that cellular companies continued to focus on the urban market and failed to extend their operations to the rural areas where the availability of such a facility could strengthen the customer-base and increase the actual number of cellphone users in the country.

They also noted that cellular companies were not doing enough to support the government’s policy of promoting Internet access services as their age-old infrastructure appeared unable to support the services, required to move Pakistan into the age of the info-economy and E-commerce.

The analysts urged the government to provide a level-playing field to all interested parties for an accelerated growth of alternative wireless access technologies of modern age which could enable people of this country to use broadband services in a cost-effective and efficient manner.

This, they believed, would help develop a competitive and vibrant telecom industry in the country in the long term.—APP