Cell phone connections zoom to 88 million in Pakistan

By Muhammad Najeeb, IANS,

Islamabad : From just 300,000 eight years ago, the number of mobile phone connections in Pakistan has grown to 88 million in 2008 covering over half of the population, thanks to cheap rates and lucrative offers by service providers.

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According to a report of the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA), mobile phone density increased from just 0.22 percent in 2000 to 54.7 percent by June 30, 2008. The six mobile phone companies in the country have sold 88,019,812 connections till now this year as compared to 306,493 by four companies in 2000. Pakistan has a population of 165 million.

However, sales executives of mobile companies say the figure of 88 million may not be accurate as many consumers keep switching from one service provider to the other without getting their previous connection cancelled.

“It is very difficult to say that there are 88 million users in Pakistan since many switch services without informing the company while many keep more than one phone,” said an executive of a mobile service provider.

Unprecedented inflation in Pakistan has hit common people very hard with petrol prices having risen by 46 percent in the last three months, food items by 30-50 percent and rice by more than 100 percent.

However, mobile phone rates are still very low and there is an ongoing price war between the various service providers.

“I believe the phones rates in Pakistan are cheaper than in any other country,” said a sales executive, adding that companies might be forced to increase rates due to inflation.

At the moment, almost all companies charge Rs.1 per minute for outgoing calls whereas there are no charges on incoming calls. On an average, an SMS costs about five paise.

Most youngsters depend on SMSs for communicating with their peers and it has become fashionable to flaunt multiple SIM cards.

“I have six SIM cards and I call different people with different phone numbers,” said a college student who did not wish to be identified.

He said most students in his university have two or more SIM cards and they keep switching them. For people using several connections, a leather company has even introduced a wallet with five small SIM size pockets just like credit card slots.

However, the growth in mobile phone use might slow down as the government has increased taxes on phone bills. Consumers will have to pay 33.1 percent taxes for their phone calls as per the new budget. From July 1, the federal excise duty has been increased from 15 to 21 percent.

According to a leading advertising company, the maximum space in newspapers and television channels is taken up by mobile phone companies and service providers, who spent around Rs.30 million ($425,000) for television advertisements in April alone.

Most mobile companies are offering internet services with push e-mail while two of them are providing television viewing through phones. Although 30 minutes of viewing TV costs about Rs.50, the rates are expected to fall once other companies join the fray.