Mobile phone fever grips Pakistan

Mobile phone mania is sweeping Pakistan with a rapid increase in national subscribers due to low connection costs and cheap pre-paid packages and phone sets.

Everyone from top business executives to daily wagers look busy on mobile phones in offices, on roads and in marketplaces in this developing South Asian country.

“The number of cellular phones has increased about 500 percent in Pakistan during the last two years,” says Arshad Khan, chief executive of Ufone mobile phone company, a subsidiary of the government-owned Pakistan Telecommunication company (PTCL).

“There are around two million mobile phone subscribers in Pakistan now compared with 4.3 million fixed line connections,” said Mahboob Habib, a PTCL official who regulates Pakistan's telecommunication sector. “However, trends show the number of mobile phone users will overtake landline users in the next two years,” he added.

“Healthy competition in the national mobile sector has been borne out of the launch of Ufone in Pakistan in 2001, and the number of mobile phones being sold have increased considerably as a consequence,” Khan said.

“In order to meet burgeoning mobile phone demand, certain official steps are now being taken. A phenomenon has occurred in the enlargement of the worldwide mobile phone sector over last decade and Pakistan is finally joining the race.”

Khan added: “Over 1.3 billion mobile phone numbers are in operation worldwide now and there are nearly 1.1 billion fixed lines phones."

Mobile phone numbers overtook fixed phone lines numbers last year, according to the statistics.

“The introduction of low-cost connections and cheap pre-paid packages in the race by mobile phone companies to attract subscribers has made ownership of a mobile phone popular among the masses,” says Saud Waheed, a private phone dealer in Lahore, the cultural capital of Pakistan.

“Mobile phone connection fees are now as low as $25 and pre-paid cards cost $8. Cards last six months during which time it is free to receive calls on their handsets,” he said.

“The ease with which customers are given connections in Pakistan is another potential selling tool, Waheed says. At present a person is only able to obtain a mobile phone connection after submitting a photocopy of his national identity card along with an application form to a mobile service provider.”

“The mobile phone companies’ decision to stop charging for incoming calls under the "Calling Party Pays" (CPP) Direction issued by the government which stipulates the caller has to pay all the charges for the call he is making keep ownership of a cell phone affordable for a huge number of people,” added Waheed.

A spokesman for Instaphone - a subsidiary of Millicom International Cellular based in Luxembourg - said: “We were first mobile phone company to launch CPP (Caller Party Pays) packages in Pakistan, well before CPP (a free incoming call regime) was officially implemented, enhancing cellular phone accessibility to all market segments.

"Instaphone was also the first mobile telecoms company in Pakistan to started pre-paid mobile services - recognising the customer’s need that the mobile phone is now more of a necessity than a luxury. It has become an essential communication tool.

“Availability of cheap mobile phone handsets is a major reason their popularity has increased,” said Ahsan Shahzad, a mobile phone dealer. “A secondhand mobile phone handset can be bought for as little as $10, but the average price for used mobile phone sets is around $50.

“Even brand new handsets are available on the market for between $80 and $90,” Mr Shahzad said, adding: “The main reason behind these low prices is unchecked availability of smuggled mobile sets in market.”

“Labourers who earn as little as $1.60 per day can be seen jabbering into mobile phones at their local market and work places,” said Anayatullah Khan, a contractor with a construction company. “It has become a necessity rather than a luxury in this new world of instant communication,” he said.