Number of mobile phone lines in Singapore falls, according to latest IDA data

After doubling from four million in 2005 to 8.42 million in December last year, the number of mobile phone lines here dropped to 8.22 million in August, according to latest data on the Infocomm Development Authority (IDA) website. -- PHOTO: ST FILE
After doubling from four million in 2005 to 8.42 million in December last year, the number of mobile phone lines here dropped to 8.22 million in August, according to latest data on the Infocomm Development Authority (IDA) website. -- PHOTO: ST FILE

Drop due to new prepaid SIM card rules, rising mobile subscription rates

Singapore is one of the most plugged-in nations when it comes to the number of mobile phone lines here, but runaway growth in the number of these lines has not only tapered off but also fallen.

After doubling from four million in 2005 to 8.42 million in December last year, the number of mobile phone lines here dropped to 8.22 million in August, according to latest data on the Infocomm Development Authority (IDA) website.

The factors behind this decrease are stricter rules on prepaid SIM card ownership and rising mobile subscription rates.

A new law introduced in April limits consumers to only three prepaid SIM cards at a time, down from 10 previously. This aims to counter the continued use of prepaid phone cards as an anonymous channel of communication for unlicensed moneylending, scams and gambling, among other illicit activities.

Before this law took effect, the number of mobile phone lines registered went up to a record 8.43 million in March, helped by a one-off spike in the sale of 700,000 3G prepaid cards.

"This was the last-minute shopping before the restriction kicked in," said Maybank Kim Eng analyst Gregory Yap.

But by August, the number had dropped to 8.22 million.

Mr Yap expects the slide to continue as the new law takes full effect.

Recent mobile subscription fee hikes are also expected to make consumers think twice about signing up for more than one phone line. Some do that to separate work from personal matters, among other reasons.

"Some consumers may feel the pinch," said analyst Ryan Huang at Britain-based brokerage IG.

SingTel was the first to raise mobile rates in August, when it raised its basic plan by $3 to $42.90 a month now.

StarHub and M1 followed suit a month later. StarHub raised monthly rates for its basic plan by $5 to $42.90; M1 by $2 to $41.

All the telcos have also nearly doubled the rates for excess mobile data use since January. SingTel and M1 charge $10.70 for each extra gigabyte (GB), capped at $188 a month, while StarHub charges $10.70 per GB, capped at $168 a month.

This affects more people now, as more consumers bust their data limits.

Today, between 19 and 22 per cent of all tiered data users - compared with about 10 per cent early last year - exceed their data bundles.

Businessman Harry Chew, 44, said he will consolidate his two lines into one after informing his contacts of the number change.

"I'm watching my cost, but I also don't like the idea of carrying two phones with me," he said.

itham@sph.com.sg