Published on December 21st, 2010 | by Arsalan Mir5
Multiple SIMs Phenomenon
Recent report by LIRNEasia, a research centre of IT and Telecom, shows that the multiple SIM ownership stands at 23% among Pakistani customers in Bottom of Pyramid (BOP) category. This means that the number of actual subscribers is likely to be 20% lower than reported numbers. Similar concern is focal point of a recent report by Dawn News.
Owing to this multiple-SIM phenomenon, the actual number of mobile phone subscribers in Pakistan is may be far less than 100.7 million (by October 2010) as declared by the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) recently. It would be useful to know the subscribers and the active SIM numbers.
Excerpt from the report follows below.
The section highlighted in blue are views of an official telecom operator with Dawn.
The section highlighted in green is the opinion of PTA official with Dawn.
The sections in bold shall be discussed below.
The mobile penetration stands at 60.4 per cent with a growth of 5.1 per cent this year. As the PTA is not maintaining the record of “inactive subscribers”, it is difficult to know the `actual` number of cell-phone users in the country.
“Since a large number of subscribers have more than one SIM, their actual number in Pakistan is not more than 60 to 65 million,” an official of a telecom operator said.
“We cannot have the exact count of mobile phone penetration unless someone — either the PTA or any other authority — starts maintaining the data of those having multiple SIMs,” he said.
 Under the rules, a cellular operator can issue 10 SIMs to a subscriber having a computerised national identity card (CNIC). There are five operators in the country. 
 On the other hand, the customer ARPU (average revenue per user) looks deflated when the same revenue is divided by a larger customer base (100 million). ARPU is a measure used by cellular operators defined as the total revenue divided by the number of subscribers. “Current industry ARPU is just over Rs200, however, it is actually more than Rs360 which sends a negative message to the investors who see a low return on their investment,” said a telecom analyst.
He said: “Ironically it has direct impact on PTA`s own efforts to attract further investment in the form of 3G licences. Showing inflated subscribers` base and low ARPU will in fact discourage investors.” 
According to a PTA spokesman, there are no international norms to record multiple SIMs being used by the users therefore the PTA records no such data. With regard to “inactive subscriber data”, he says it does not record any such data.
He says 100.1 million subscribers (Sept 2010) are based on the actual data received from the cellular operators. “The PTA issued a standard Active Subscriber Definition in November last year and all operators have undergone extensive data cleaning activity in this regard, which is still going on.”
He further says since the implementation of active subscriber definition, the PTA believes all figures reported by the operators are based strictly on that.
 Its definition is: “A subscription has a valid balance. A subscription would be counted as `Active Subscription` if the subscription that is registered in the internal subscriber system of mobile service provider (i.e HLR) makes any revenue generating activity including Outgoing (Voice Calls, SMS, MMS), Incoming (Voices calls) and Others (Recharge activity, Roaming services, Data transmissions including GPRS/internet access, data transfers, receipt sessions), during last 90 days.
“In case of no activity the subscription would be counted off from the billing system regardless of the fact that the subscriber has a valid balance within prescribed timeline of the credit at IN.” 
The spokesman says falling ARPUs is indeed a reality and the PTA is keeping a close watch on it. However, it is also a worldwide trend that ARPUs fall where penetration level rises, same is the case in Pakistan.
“Pakistan has 60 per cent cellular teledensity so far and there is still a lot of potential in the market to be tapped by the operators. Economy of scale plays vital role in low ARPU markets,” he says.
 Following this rule, one CNIC holder gets 10 SIMs from an operator. With 5 operators he may get 50 SIMs. This number is a lot. To reduce the multiple SIM chaos, PTA must change this rule. It is fair to allow one CNIC holder 1 SIM from an operator or maximum 2.
 ARPU is recognized as the average revenue per user. Here, generally it is generally interpreted that users are actual subscribers. Where as the reality is that this ARPU calculation is based on SIMs not actual subscribers. The concern shared in this regard over its impact on the investment is justified.
 With this definition in place, we have seen the subscriber numbers fluctuating in reports. But PTA must enforce more strict record clean-up on operators. This can be done with help of automated record clean-up procedure in line with the aforementioned definition followed at the end of every month.