Undercounting Telecom Users

Teledensity, the number of telephone subscribers per 100 people, is a much bandied about term. International Telecommunication Union – ITU’s teledensity statistics for a country is often used as an indicator for a country’s progress or lack-thereof in bridging the digital divide.

Now, how do you count teledensity – by the number of phones? Or by how many people use phones? For instance, if a landline or fixed “family” phone is used by a handful of people in a developed country, it will probably be used by a larger number of people in the developing and under developed countries. Then there is the urban-rural divide. Phones are probably “shared” far more in the rural context than in urban settings.

A new study by Learning Initiatives on Reforms for Network Economies (LIRNE-Asia) confirms these ‘usage’ assumptions while raising a few other interesting possibilities. A total aside – Is it just me or is anyone else mystified by the organization’s name?

LIRNE-Asia’s new study “Telecom use on a Shoestring: a Study of Financially Constrained People in South Asiaattempts to understand how the ‘financially constrained’ population in three countries – Bangladesh, India, and Sri Lanka – use telecom services. Financially constrained here is defined as earning less than US $100 per month. Here are some interesting findings from India and Sri Lanka:

  • Only a small percentage of the sample population has not used a phone in the last 3 months – 12% in India and .3% in Sri Lanka (yeah, that is 0.3%).
  • Of the telephone users, 58% DO NOT own a phone. So, they are not part of that teledensity metric.
  • Of those who own mobile phones, a whopping 83% are on a pre-paid plan.
  • The number 1 factor why people switch off phones – to conserve batteries. Undisturbed sleep time is second. Cost savings is a distant third.
  • 33% of the mobile users in India bought second-hand or used sets.

  • Mobile phone services are perceived as expensive. Users will increase usage if it was cheaper.
  • Generally people spend 1-3% of their incomes on telecom services. Comparatively, financially constrained users spend 5-11% of their incomes on mobile phones.

So, a smart telecommunications company can potentially create a very profitable business by providing mobile phone service for the “bottom of the pyramid” – refurbished phones with longer battery life and special access plans that are targeted towards this market. Reliance, Nokia, Samsung, Bharti – anyone listening?

Random crumbs of knowledge:

  • India had mobile phones since 1994, but Sri Lanka has had it since 1989.
  • India is on the CPP (Calling Party Pays) system since 2003. It is RPP (Receiving Party Pays) in Sri Lanka. Note to researchers – please expand those strange abbreviations for those of us who wander in without the domain expertise. Otherwise, we will have to resort to googling CPP and making judgment calls that it probably is not Canadian Pension Plan or Certified Protection Professional.
This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.