Data shows first-ever fall in cellular users

Published April 19, 2024
WHILE cellular subscriptions fell by over 3.7 million in 2023, mobile broadband usage went up 7.5pc to 124.4m, helped by cheaper data and 4G penetration.—Reuters/file
WHILE cellular subscriptions fell by over 3.7 million in 2023, mobile broadband usage went up 7.5pc to 124.4m, helped by cheaper data and 4G penetration.—Reuters/file

KARACHI: For the first time in six years, the number of cellular subscribers in Pakistan has declined even though the penetration of 4G has increased across the country, according to data released on Thursday.

The total cellular subscriptions in Pakistan fell by over 3.7 million during 2023 to close at 190.9m, down 1.9pc from 194.6m in 2022, according to the annual ‘State of Apps’ report for Pakistan, jointly released by Data Darbar, a data and market intelligence platform and UAE streaming platform Begin.

As per the report, the dip in the number of cellular subscribers was the “first instance” in at least six years, “and possibly on record”.

“[This] is part of the telecom industry’s conscious drive to get rid of low-value customers and focus on segments with better monetary returns,” the report said, adding that this pivot means companies moving from voice to data subscribers.

Trend indicates telcos now prioritising data subscribers

An indication of this shift was the growth of mobile broadband subscriptions, which rose 7.5pc to 124.4m in FY23.

The growth was also supported by the falling price of mobile data, with the average cost of 1GB of data plunged by 71.4pc to Rs32.8, compared to Rs114 in 2018. The overall penetration of broadband — both fixed and mobile connections — increased to 53.6pc in 2023, up from 51pc the year before.

The report also showed that the government’s attempts to boost local mobile phone manufacturing failed to yield promising results.

It has been on a decline since 2021 when the PTI government issued the Mobile Manufacturing Policy in 2021 from 24.7m in 2021 to 21.9m in 2022 and 21.3m in 2023.

Mobile app outlook

The report also showed that Pakistanis downloaded 3.51bn apps in 2023, almost the same as 3.52bn downloads the year before.

TikTok remained the most popular app with 31.8m downloads, followed by Whatsapp Business and Facebook, with 23.9m and 23.4m downloads, respectively.

The total apps published by Pakistani developers continued its downward slide to just over 4,800 in 2023, down 11.4pc from the year before.

However, in terms of gaming apps, Pakistan stood in second place as the developers released almost 1,100 games across the two stores — PlayStore and iOS.

“With sustained uptick in the incorporation of new information technology companies, the industry is poised to grow over the coming years, particularly presenting a massive opportunity in export-oriented categories in games and applications,” the press release stated.

Published in Dawn, April 19th, 2024

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