According to the ITU ICTeye, which is now carrying 2008 data, Pakistan’s surge to overtake Sri Lanka has petered out, leaving the Maldives (143 active SIMs/100 people) as the undisputed leader in mobile connectivity (apparently all adult Maldivians carry two active SIMs; there are only two operators in the Maldives), and Sri Lanka second with 52 SIMs per 100 people.
On the fixed side, assisted by CDMA phones that are counted as fixed, Sri Lanka is the leader (17 connection per 100 people), followed by Maldives (15 per 100).
Like in cricket, the middle of the rankings are the most interesting. Both Pakistan (50/100) and Bhutan (37/100) are ahead of India (29/100) in mobile. This shows that India cannot afford to let up the pace of 10 million connections a month for some time. If it does, it might be overtaken by Afghanistan (29/100) and even Bangladesh (28/100).
Of course, the fact that Afghanistan is ahead of Bangladesh in mobile penetration should cause all sorts of palpitations in government offices in Dhaka. Bangladesh was one of the earliest in South Asia to adopt mobile and is the most densely populated country in the world. How they were overtaken by Afghanistan, a war-torn country with difficult terrain, should cause serious re-examination of policies such as the BDT 800 SIM tax. The fact that Afghanistan’s CAGR for 2003-08 is 109%, higher than Bangladesh’s 2003-08 CAGR of 101%, suggests that the gap between the two countries is more likely to increase than decrease.
In the fixed rankings, we find Afghanistan occupying the cellar (0.37/100 people) behind Bangladesh (0.84/100). Pakistan (2.5/100) is behind Nepal (2.8/100). This is very surprising given the apparent superiority of the Pakistan policy and regulatory framework. Both use CDMA on the fixed access side, so that cannot be the explanation. Comments from Pakistani colleagues would be most welcome.
India is the only country showing negative growth in fixed over the 2003-08 period (-2%), but this simply because India is more honest in its reporting, counting CDMA on the mobile side instead of on the fixed side. For example Sri Lanka is experiencing negative growth in wireline, that is masked by CDMA growth.
From 2003 to 2008, the number of active SIMs has increased by over 12 times, while the number of fixed connections has decreased marginally, the negative growth in India wiping out all the gains in the rest of South Asia. South Asia is clearly the territory of the mobile.