Telecom indicators beg for positive developments -Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF)

Paksitan Press Foundtion

Telecom indicators beg for positive developments

The latest estimates by the Pakistan Telecommuni-cation Authority show that by September end this year, the mobile network operators (MNOs) had signed up a total of 120.51 million cellular subscribers, highlighting meager improvement in the mobile teledensity. After losing over one million subscribers in July (possibly due to SIM verifications), the MNOs breached the 120 million threshold again in September.

PTA had previously released statistics till May end, and the four-month comparison shows that the MNOs added a total of 0.65 million subscribers till September end – a very small increase.

Warid Telecom lost 1.15 million subscribers during this period, as its market share shed 102bps to come down at 10.49 percent. Zong led the net gainers during this period, acquiring 1.23 million new subscribers and improving its market share by 95bps to reach 14.7 percent in September.

Mobilink had a bad case of the blues as it added nearly 26,000 subscribers to its network between June and September, which let its market share slip below 30 percent. Telenor and Ufone both added over a quarter million subscribers each, which improved their market shares by 9bps and 12bps respectively.

Though total cellular subscriptions have crossed 120 million, the number of active users (minimum activity of 90 days) is said to be between 70-80 percent of the total, with a lesser percentage of unique user identities in the system.

Besides new subscriber acquisition, another source of readjustments in the subscription pie is the MNP service. Other PTA data shows that between June and September 2012, 1.57 million subscribers successfully ported their numbers to other operators. The race is led by Zong with net MNP additions of nearly 230,000 customers, followed by Telenors at 87,510. The rest had net MNP customer losses during the period: Ufone (184,362), Warid (68,470) and Mobilink (63,975).

The fixed local loop subscriptions seem to have gone below three million, as the FLL teledensity was reported to be 1.7 percent at September end. Meanwhile, the wireless local loop subscriptions remained stagnant at 2.88 million. A steady increase is seen in broadband subscriptions, which reached 2.178 million as of August end this year, driven by growth in wireless broadband.

Much has happened in last few months, which hasn exactly been auspicious for the telecom sector. The prevalent policy environment of adhocism has finally crept into the telecom affairs, as PTA started taking decisions (e.g. MNP service suspension, issuing visionary orders for SIM sales, caving in to cellular curfew orders, and banishing late night mobile packages) without thinking about consequences on the sector.

After Prime Ministers timely intervention, MNP suspension is reportedly void now, and MNOs are given up to three months time to install biometric systems for customer verification during SIM sales at their service centres and retail franchises. But there is no official word on the continuity of cellular suspension practice championed by the Interior Ministry.

The ICH saga may conclude soon, as PTA has now withdrawn its September 25 directive that established the clearing house. LDIs will now return to their old arrangements, and use their own circuits rather than PTCLs to terminate international voice calls in Pakistan.

There are still bigger fish left to fry. Serious efforts are now said to be afoot at PTA and MoIT to resuscitate the stalled 3G auction process, but it appears that time will not be on the governments side. The state of countrys political economy balks at this transactions completion any time soon, especially when parliamentary elections could be announced any time soon.

The ICT landscape of the country is harking for game-changing developments. But at the very least, it is suggested that the sector not be bothered with less thoughtful directives anymore. As for 3G spectrum sale, Pakistan is already four years late into introducing this technology (ref. Telecom Policy, 2004). Perhaps, rather than flip-flopping again, the transaction should be left for new government to handle.

Cellular sector Landscape
Rank MNOs Market Netshares subscribers(%) (mn)

1 Mobilink 29.93 36.07
2 Telenor 25.03 30.16
3 Ufone 19.77 23.83
4 Zong 14.77 17.80
5 Warid 10.49 12.65
Total 120.51

(*as of September 2012)

Data source: PTA

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