Thursday, January 12, 2012

Pakistan Leads in SMS Traffic

Pakistan's 152 billion text messages and Rs. 40 billion in texting revenue in 2009-10 put it among the top-ranking nations for sms traffic, says a report produced by Pakistan Telecommunications Authority (PTA).

The main driver for growth of texting in Pakistan has been its low cost compared with voice calls, a key reason for many users, including illiterate phone users, to be attracted to using text messages to communicate, according to a study done by Alex Gilchrist and Jim Linton Williams of the UK-based Popular Policy Engagement Lab. They start by asking literate relatives and friends to read text messages to them, and sometimes ask them to type messages for them as well. Gradually, they also learn to read and type text messages themselves.


A recent Brookings Institution paper titled A New Face of Education: Bringing Technology into the Classroom in the Developing World compared the effective use of cell phone text messaging in Pakistani schools with the failure of One-Laptop-Per Child (OLPC) scheme in Peruvian schools. It highlights Mobilink-UNESCO program to using text messaging increase literacy skills among rural girls in Pakistan. Each girl in the program uses her mobile phone to send an SMS message in Urdu to her teacher. After sending, she receives messages from her teacher in response, which she copies by hand in her notebook to practice her writing skills. Here's how Brookings paper describes the results:

"Initial outcomes look positive; after four months, the percentage of girls who achieved an A level on literacy examinations increased from 27 percent to 54 percent. Likewise, the percentage of girls who achieved a C level on examinations decreased from 52 percent to 15 percent. The power of mobile phone technology, which is fairly widespread in Pakistan, appears in this case to help hurdle several education barriers by finding new ways to support learning for rural girls in insecure areas—girls who usually have limited opportunities to attend school and who frequently do not receive individual attention when they do. Often they live in households with very few books or other materials to help them retain over summer vacation what they learned during the school year."

The Brookings report compares the use of low-cost, simple and ubiquitous cell phone technology for education in Pakistan with the deployment of relatively more expensive, more complicated and much less ubiquitous laptops to educate children as part of One-Laptop-Per-Child program in Peru. Here's how Brookings paper describes it:

"In Peru, a number of colorful laptops sit in a corner of a classroom covered with dust. Given to the school through a One Laptop Per Child program arranged by the Ministry of Education, the laptops were intended to improve students’ information communication technology (ICT) skills, as well as their content-related skills. Without the proper support for teacher training in how the laptops are used, with no follow-up or repair and maintenance contingencies, and with outdated and bug-infested software, the laptops are seen as unusable and serve little purpose. In this case, technology has not helped improve the educational experience of learners."

Health Care:

Mobile communications service provider Mobilink has recently partnered up with the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), Pakistan's Ministry of Health (MoH) and GSMA Development Fund in an innovative pilot project which offers low cost mobile handsets and shared access to voice (PCOs) to Lady Health Workers delivering community-based health care in remote parts of the country. Mobilink hopes to bridge the communication gap between the LHW and their ability to access emergency health care and to help the worker earn extra income through the Mobilink PCO (Public Call Office).

Civil Society:

A recent study of the use of cell phones found that mobile phones are enabling low cost access to community members across class, linguistic and geographical boundaries to build and strengthen a strong civil society across the nation. They are an effective tool for educators, community organizers, NGOs, health care providers, social and political activists and businessmen to communicate with a large cross section of people in Pakistan, as well as to learn from them, and even collaborate with them. Here are some interesting highlights of the Gilchrist-Williams study which focuses on it:

1. 37 percent of the poorest 60 percent of Pakistan’s adults owned a mobile phone; that the majority had regular access to a mobile phone despite not owning one; and that 47 percent of phone-owners used SMS.

2. Just as many women as men have access to a mobile phone through one means or another – but that whereas men tend to own a phone, or to use the phone of a friend or of a Public Call Office, women tend to use a phone owned by an adult male family member.

3. Viral text messaging is widespread in Pakistan. The remarkably low cost of text messages in Pakistan allows this one-to-one viral transmission to achieve quite considerable scale. Jokes, proverbs, quotations, news and religious injunctions are all frequently forwarded, and are often adapted by users with unpredictable effect.


Deployment of simple, cheap and ubiquitous mobile phone technology and related services are helping Pakistan develop in ways that could not have been imagined just a few years ago. While there are some reported instances of the abuse of mobile phones by criminals and terrorists to harm people, I believe the net result has been that it is empowering individuals and society to become better educated, healthier, more informed and more productive to build a better Pakistan.

Related Links:

Haq's Musings

Cell Phones for Mass Literacy in Pakistan

Pakistan's Lady Health Workers Best in the World

Pakistan Tops Text Messaging Growth

Media and Telecom Boom in Pakistan

Pakistan 100 Mbps FTTH Launch


Michelle said...

this is great information for my work - where can i find country by country texting rates?

Riaz Haq said...

Michelle: "where can i find country by country texting rates?"

Take a look at the following links:,category,SMS.aspx

SMS is the king of mobile messaging.
• Portio Research (January 2011): 6.9 SMS trillion messages were sent in 2010. SMS traffic is expected to break 8 trillion in 2011.
• 249 billion MMS were sent, in 2010.
• 480.6 million users of mobile email in 2010, expected to quadruple by 2015.
• 311.2 million users of mobile instant messaging (IM) in 2010, expected to grow to 1.6 trillion by 2015.
• Portio says: “Messaging is still king. We want to be absolutely clear about this. Messaging still dominates [mobile operators’] non-voice revenues worldwide”. Worldwide mobile messaging market will be worth over US$200 billion in 2011 (SMS is $127 billion of this), reaching $334.7 billion by 2015.
• Juniper Research (May 2011): By 2016, application-to-person (A2P) messaging will overtake person-to-person (texting) messaging, being worth more than US$70bn.
• A2P messaging includes messages to or from an application to or from a large number of customers in financial services, advertising, marketing, business administration, ticketing, television voting etc.
• Juniper Research (June 2011): Mobile IM users will exceed 1.3 billion by 2016. “While IM services have some advantages, such as real-time communication and apparent absence of cost, the market is fragmented by different services [AOL’s AIM, Blackberry Messenger, Microsoft’s Windows Live, Skype and Yahoo! Messenger] which cannot communicate with each other.”

Riaz Haq said...

Here's a ProPakistan website story on Punjab govt's giveaway of 100,000 laptops to college students:

Punjab Government has planned to distribute 100,000 laptops amongst the top achievers in MS (Hons.), MA, MSC, LLB programmes, said an advertisement published in today’s papers.

All those students who achieved more than 60 percent marks in last annual examination or scored more than 70 percent in their last semester are eligible for the offer.

In addition, all registered students for MS, LLM, Ph.d and M.Phil will also get a free laptop.

Top 100 position holders from all Punjab boards in their matriculation examinations are going to get free laptops too.

Eligibility Criteria

One hundred thousand Laptops will be provided to following categories of youth in Punjab:

All students of 4 years BS Degree Programme who have secured
60% or above marks (in the previous year) in case of annual examination system OR
70% or above marks (in the previous semester) in case of semester system
All post graduate students (Part I & II) of 2 year Masters Degree Programme, who have secured
60% or above marks (in the previous year) in case of annual examination system OR
70% or above marks (in the previous semester) in case of semester system
All currently enrolled students/scholars of MS, LLM, M.Phil and Ph.D
The top 100 students of each Board of Intermediate and Secondary Education of Punjab

In case of 1st year students, the data for the last examination in which the student appeared, shall be considered.

Check if your name is in the list or not:

To see if your name was selected in the list or not, click on this link:

Riaz Haq said...

Here's an interesting excerpt of a World Bank blog on cell phone use in education in Pakistan:

In Pakistan, some innovative folks are exploring how basic text messaging (SMS) can be used in the education sector to the benefit of people with even very low end mobile phones, leveraging the increasing high teledensities found in communities across the country.

What's happening in Pakistan in this regard? A lot, it turns out, although admittedly only in pockets and at a rather modest scale to date. The country is perhaps not unique in what is being explored (most everything being tried there is being tried in various other places as well), but that doesn't mean it isn't quite interesting. For example:

In February, almost 150 third year students at Asghar Mall College in Rawalapindi (note: 'third year' in this context would be the rough equivalent of the first year at university in, for example, the United States) for whom authorities had mobile phone numbers on file began participating on a voluntary basis in a daily vocabulary quiz exercise delivered by SMS. These young men -- from middle to lower middle class backgrounds -- are sent a simple multiple choice question. Texts are addressed to each student individually, using the equivalent of a 'mail merge' function that will be familiar to anyone who has had to send out 'blast' emails or faxes). They reply via SMS, and then receive an automated response, based on their answer. In this response, their answer is repeated, a notation is made about whether the answer given was correct or not, and the correct answer is incorporated into a sample sentence.
One thing perhaps that is worth mentioning here is that, for some of these students, who have been educated in a system where very large, lecture-based classes are the norm, this may be the first time they have received 'personalized' feedback of any sort from their instructors.

The team in Pakistan is asking all sorts of interesting questions as part of their work. How can the potential impact of each message be maximized, especially given that these messages constitute just one small part of a large stream of messages -- cricket scores, notes from friends and family, jokes, news items, scripture passages and horoscope advice -- that students receive every day? What is best learned or reinforced through such interactions? What are the most effective ways to sequence and scaffold such messages over time?

In the process, much user-related information is being collected, helping to answer some basic questions for which there are not yet good, reliable data:

How many young students have phones?

How many can afford to participate in education-related activities via mobile phone -- and are willing to do so?
(Related to this: Are there ways to subsidize SMS traffic for various populations? And what if people actual respond to the SMS quizzes -- can this sort of thing at scale?)

Vocabulary-building and grammar quizzes are just two potential applications possible as part of this sort of SMS-based interaction; opportunities for quizzes in various academic areas are easily imagined. This could be great for test preparation, for example -- a potentially fertile market for private firms in Pakistan. Indeed, project proponents hope to use this as a way to help to stimulate private sector activity and innovation in this area, especially for young entrepreneurs, given what have turned out to be very low piloting costs.

Mohan said...

You have made a good point. Text messaging is really a good reason for illetrate people to learn the language

Riaz Haq said...

Here are excerpts of a BBC report on Arfa's death:

Arfa's short life mirrors Pakistan's burgeoning engagement with information technology, an industry which holds out hope for youth embittered by unemployment and a lack of opportunities.

Her father, Col Amjad Karim, says she was particularly concerned to use her skills to help the young, those under-served by IT and those from villages.

"It is generally understood that computers are for very hi-fi people or rich schools but nowadays one can be purchased for a few thousand rupees by the poorest of poorest," he told the BBC.

"Arfa's centre of gravity was wanting to improve human resource development by focusing on education."

Col Karim retired from the army to be his daughter's manager. He says her mother and two younger brothers are in shock after her death.

Arfa had been in intensive care in a Lahore hospital since late December.

Senior politicians joined relatives at her funeral in the city on Sunday - she has already had a technology park named after her in Lahore.

Her loss is also being felt by Pakistan's IT world.

Shoaib Malik, country manager for games company Mindstorm, said: "It's really sad. What was amazing about her was that she had a clear vision, she literally wanted to set up the industry.

"One thinks only kids who have studied from abroad would have a vision but it was remarkable. I think whatever God does, does for the better but had she been alive she could have played an important role in the IT industry."

Mindstorm is one of a number of small Pakistani start-ups tapping into the global IT boom - a side to the country often overlooked amid bombings, natural disasters and never-ending political crisis.

The company, set up by self-taught techies, developed a game which ended being selected as the ICC World Cup 2011 official game, Cricket Power.
Internet effect

According to Pakistan Software Houses Association president Jehan Ara, Arfa was "intelligent beyond her years".

"In addition to achieving a professional certification at the tender age of nine, it is also notable that she set up and ran a computer training institute for a poor community.

"Her passion for technology, coupled with her vision to use her talent to do something significant for Pakistan and its people, was truly amazing for someone so young."

Ms Ara feels the IT industry offers a way out of unemployment for young Pakistanis, many of whom she says are starting their own companies. One Karachi firm is even developing software for the stock exchange in the UK.
Around 1996 - the year when Arfa was born - the IT industry really took off in Pakistan, according to Shakir Hussain, CEO of software company Creative Chaos.

As the millennium approached, the fear of a mass technical apocalypse also motivated people to pay more attention to IT ventures.

"Suddenly there were hiring and migration opportunities for software engineers," he recalls.

But techies in Pakistan had been putting their creative minds to work even earlier than that, with far-reaching and destructive results.

In 1986, two brothers from Lahore created the world's first computer virus, "Brain".

They insist the virus was friendly and not intended to damage information, but it still ricocheted through the tech world and was developed by others, spawning viruses used to exploit operating systems.

That, however, is not what Pakistan's IT industry wants to be known for.

Shakir Hussain thinks it offers bright young people a good chance to earn a few thousand dollars working from home through various websites.

"The internet has been a great leveller," he says.

Riaz Haq said...

Education News reports concerns about the loss of Urdu script with growth of technology:

In SMS-happy Pakistani, many young people are writing their text messages in using the Latin alphabet, rather than the traditional Urdu script. That has some concerned that the classical script will disappear.

Cell phone users in Pakistan sent an average of 128 text messages each per month in 2009, government figures show.

That was the fifth highest figure among all countries in the world. Fueled by texting, a growing number of Pakistanis are using Latin letters to write Urdu, the national language, instead of using the official Urdu script.

Though the trend is limited, it has left some Urdu purists concerned about what happens if the trend continues.

While it may sound harmless, it has unintended consequences. Because the first generations of mobile phones couldn’t send text messages using Urdu script, Pakistanis improvised and started converting Urdu phrases into the Latin alphabet. Even though Urdu-capable phones are more common now, many people have become used to the Latin script.

Shaista Parween, a math and computer studies teacher, said texting-mad students are just as comfortable writing Urdu in Latin as they are using the regular script. In fact, she said they sometimes do schoolwork using the Latin alphabet.

“I’m facing this a lot in my classes,” Parween said. “Latin Urdu is being used so much, what can we do? We can’t say it’s wrong if they are trying. It’s used so much in the media and television, that’s why.”

Officially Urdu is written in a variation of the Arabic script. But while the use of Latin letters for Urdu has reached high levels, though still a minority, it isn’t the first time it’s been done.

European missionaries and administrators converted Urdu into the Latin script in the 18th century. And in the 1950s, military ruler Ayub Khan proposed officially writing Urdu in Latin letters, just as Mustafa Kemal Atatürk had done with Turkish decades earlier. But religious leaders said the Arabic script was an important connection to Pakistan’s Islamic identity, so Ayub abandoned the idea.

But now, tech-savvy kids are doing what a military dictator couldn’t achieve 40-years ago. And many Pakistanis aren’t happy about it.

“Trying to write a language in another script is like trying to drop off your skin and trying to have a new one,” said Rauf Parekh, an assistant professor at the University of Karachi’s Urdu Department.

He’s concerned about the impact this will make on society if people stop learning the Urdu script.

“They will be cut off from their culture, from their tradition, their history, their classical literature. How are they going to enjoy if they cannot read it in the original. So it’s a kind of deprivation on cultural and educational side. They won’t feel it perhaps now, but maybe hundred years from now they will realize what a great loss they have incurred,” he said.

While Parekh bemoans the loss of traditional Pakistani culture, a new kind of “text messaging culture” is emerging. Pakistanis use text messages for just about anything, but especially for passing on political jokes, poetry, quotes and for flirting.
One book is titled “Cool SMS,” another “Love & Love SMS.” Each joke or poem is printed in both the Urdu script and the Latin transliteration.

“It’s been about 10 years that these books have been published now,” shop owner Basharat explained. “There was a lot of demand for them initially. This is because the majority of our population is not educated, so Latin Urdu books were made so that every person can read the books and send SMSs. It made it so much easier.”..

sanaahamed said...

Thanks for sharing this great information with us.

Riaz Haq said...

Here's a Telecompaper report on Pak SMS traffic in 2011:

Pakistani mobile users sent on average 175 SMS messages per month, or around 5.8 messages per day in 2011, Pro Pakistani writes citing a report from the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority. A total of 237.58 billion text messages were exchanged in 2011, up from 176 billion in 2010. Mobile operator Telenor generated the most person-to-person SMS traffic, contributing 26.5 percent of total traffic, followed by Mobilink with 26.4 percent, Ufone with 24.4 percent, Zong with 11.8 percent of SMS traffic, and Warid with 10.7 percent. Meanwhile Pakistani mobile users also sent 100.8 million MMS messages in 2011.

Riaz Haq said...

Here's a PakistanToday report on mobile telecom growth in Pakistan:

The voice and SMS ratio per subscriber per month has also notably improved as average cellular mobile subscriber in Pakistan,is making voice calls of 203 minutes per month whereas, generating 214 SMS.

An incredible growth of 43.97% in voice traffic average per user has been witnessed while growth of 7% in SMS use per subscriber was noted during the period.
The attractive tariff packages with unlimited call offers and discounted minutes have helped generate a record national cellular mobile outgoing traffic of 294.2 billion minutes during year 2012-13. The cellular mobile national outgoing traffic to cellular network has shown a tremendous growth of 52.51% as compared to the same period of previous year 2011-12 in which 192.9 billion minutes were generated. Each passing year has been showing a reasonable growth as the total national cellular mobile outgoing traffic was only 76 billion minutes in 2009-10 and 137.7 billion minutes in 2010-11.

As per new figures issued by regulator Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA), the massive growth in national cellular mobile outgoing traffic was also contributed by new subscribers in the cellular network during the year and very attractive packages offered by cellular operators to win the subscribers from each other.

Lucrative cellular tariff packages with unlimited call offers and discounted minutes have become a major attraction for the cellular subscribers as the cellular mobile operators adopted aggressive promotional strategies offering attractive packages for Voice, Data and SMS, including free calls and unlimited SMS.

These marketing tactics resulted in more business for companies mainly from voice calls and SMS. Both the voice and SMS traffic has risen during the 2012-13 owing to bundled packages and SMS offers.

During 2012-13, a record 315.7 billion SMSs were exchanged by the mobile consumers, showing an increase of 13.68% from previous year, though the growth rate is lower than corresponding period of previous year but the total figure of SMS exchanged is impressive.

The figures further showed that the national outgoing traffic from mobile to fixed networks remained very low as compared to traffic from mobile to mobile networks. This was mainly due to low tariffs being offered on the same network by operators as well as the huge difference in cellular and fixed line subscriber numbers.

The international outgoing traffic from cellular network has also witnessed a gradual increase and shown a healthy growth of 17.92% by June 2013 contrary to sharp decline of 28.69% for the same period of 2011-12.

The international incoming traffic on cellular networks somewhat declined and showed a negative trend of 10.02% for the year 2012-13 as compared to the year 2010-11. The decrease in international incoming traffic could be due to increase in Access Promotion Contribution (APC) change during 2012-13 from 1.25 US cents to 2.90 US cents, which discouraged Long Distance International (LDI) operators to offer lower settlement rates to attract additional incoming traffic in the country.