40 million mobile phones for 20 million people!

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J.A. George

As the world’s telecommunications sector is growing day by day, recent data shows that internet and mobile phone usage is increasing at its pace.

In such a situation, information obtained from the Telecommunication Regulatory Commission of Sri Lanka through the Right to Information (RTI) Act confirms that the use of mobile phones is increasing significantly in Sri Lanka. 

In an age where mobile devices have become everyone’s companion for communication, information access and digitization, it is important to understand the landscape of mobile technology in Sri Lanka.

The Telecommunications Regulatory Commission of Sri Lanka (TRCSL) is an organization that has established a strong regulatory framework to ensure smooth import and distribution of mobile phones and devices in the country. 

With about 40 million mobile phone devices in circulation in Sri Lanka with a population of nearly 20 million, it is essential to l take a close look at the prevalence of mobile phone usage in Sri Lanka.

Mobile devices in Sri Lanka 

Located in the Indian Ocean and the epicenter of South Asia, Sri Lanka has a thriving telecommunications industry with a focus on mobile devices. Sri Lanka’s mobile device coverage reflects the country’s growing digital presence. With nearly 40 million mobile devices in circulation, it is clear that these handheld devices play an important role in the daily lives of Sri Lankans. 

Imports of 39,695,280 devices 

According to the latest data provided by TRCSL, there are approximately 39,695,280 mobile phones in Sri Lanka. The fact that this number includes both Android and Apple devices is significant and shows the diversity of the Sri Lankan mobile phone market.

Furthermore, in the first five months of 2022, 352,706 mobile phones were imported into Sri Lanka despite the economic crisis following the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Regulatory actions

The TRCSL is said to be implementing a series of regulatory measures to monitor and control the mobile phone market imported into Sri Lanka. 

These measures are said to be taken to protect consumer interests, improve the quality of mobile phones and its safety standards, and maintain the integrity of the market.

Also, one of its key regulatory measures is to test the quality of imported mobile phones, and only devices that successfully complete this process will be allowed to enter the Sri Lankan market, the commission said.

Licensed traders registered with TRCSL are permitted to officially import mobile phones into Sri Lanka.

Moreover,  TRCSL stated that the mobile phones imported by the traders will be registered based on theInternational Mobile Equipment Identity (IMEI) digits verification based on the volume, with only the mobile phones imported by the operators being registered in the IMEI verification system.

Furthermore, only traders who have obtained a permit under Section 21 of the Telecommunications Act of Sri Lanka (as amended by Act No. 27 of 1996) can engage in the importation of mobile phones. 

TRCSL also states that vendors are mandated to obtain a license issued under Section 21 of the Telecommunications Act, which ensures that vendors are authorized to sell mobile phones in the market, and conducts regular inspections to verify that vendors hold valid licenses.

Meanwhile, the Commission has responded to a query under the Right to Information Act stating that it has the authority to take appropriate legal action as mentioned in Section 21(5) and Section 65 of the Sri Lanka Telecommunications Act (as amended by Act No. 27 of 1996) against those who continue to operate without a proper license. 

As of June 2023, the Commission has reported that there are 3,586,880 mobile phone devices in Sri Lanka, a figure that is likely to have increased massively following the recent lifting of import restrictions.

Compared to Sri Lanka’s population of approximately 22 million, this increased number shows the number of devices per capita and the continued growth of the mobile phone market in the country. TRCSL has stated that the country’s landline phone penetration will be 12 percent and mobile phone penetration will be 130 percent by December 2022.

Meanwhile, the Commission also mentioned that four operators have been authorized to provide mobile phone services in Sri Lanka. 

In addition, mobile usage in Sri Lanka has spread from urban areas to remote villages and 6451 telecommunication towers have been set up across the country to provide mobile phone services through the use of the Right to Information Act.

Accordingly, 634 telecommunication towers have been set up in the Central Province, 487 telecommunication towers in the Eastern Province and 416 telecommunication towers in the North Central Province. In addition, there are 746 telecommunication towers in the North Western Province, 371 telecommunication towers in the Northern Province, 409 telecommunication towers in Sabaragamuwa Province, 611 telecommunication towers in the Southern Province, 328 telecommunication towers in the Uva Province, and 2449 telecommunication towers in the Western Province. 

As mobile phones are the primary means of communication and internet access for many Sri Lankans, these devices should be affordable and accessible to all. However, in the wake of the increase in the price of the dollar, the prices of all products in the Sri Lankan market have gone up, and the prices of mobile phones and spare parts have gone up sharply. In the absence of proper regulatory procedures regarding pricing, consumers accuse sellers of arbitrarily raising prices and making high profits. 

Meanwhile, during a field visit three months ago, we were able to directly observe the sale of unlicensed mobile phones in many parts of Colombo, while at the showroom of a major company that provides mobile phone services, it is being sold as TRCSL licensed.

In such a background, when the TRCSL was queried in this regard using the Right to Information Act, the reply was that the Commission’s permission is mandatory. But it can be seen that there are huge contradictions between this statement and the state of the market. 

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