Just how many Internet users in Sri Lanka? Depends on whom you ask…

Have smartphone, will travel...

Just how many Internet users are there in Sri Lanka?

Looks like a simple question, but there’s no simple answer. Trust me, I’ve been looking.

Oh sure, it’s not possible to calculate such numbers precisely because there always are more users than are subscribers. But official and industry sources usually have a good idea. In Sri Lanka’s case, their figures vary considerably.

The Telecommunications Regulatory Commission of Sri Lanka (TRCSL) is the official data collector. It used to publish a quarterly compendium of telecom industry related statistics.
The last such report, for December 2010, cites these cumulative figures for the whole of Sri Lanka by end 2010:
• Mobile phone subscribers: 17,359,312
• Fixed phone subscribers: 3,578,463
• Internet & Email Subscribers – fixed: : 280,000 (provisional figure)
• Mobile Broadband Subscribers: 294,000 (provisional figure)

The 2010 Annual Report of Central Bank of Sri Lanka, which provides an official state of the whole economy, draws on these statistics. However, in Chapter 3, on p59, it lists “Internet and e-mail” as 430,000, attributing it to TRCSL.

Although for the same point in time (Dec 2010), it doesn’t tally. TRCSL’s own data, when we add up fixed and mobile subscribers of Internet, comes to 574,000.

Both these state entities seem to be hooked on “email users” — a throw-back to the early dial-up days when some subscribers simply signed up for email facility and didn’t want web browsing as the latter was more costly. As far as I know, that demarcation disappeared years ago. But I may be wrong.

Even if we take the highest case scenario, of a total 574,000 Internet subscribers (fixed and mobile), it still comes to less than 3 per cent of Sri Lanka’s total population of 20 million (exactly how many people live on the island will be known after the latest census is taken in December 2011).

That’s the number of subscribers. The number of users is usually higher. Assuming an average 3 users per subscription, we can imagine around 1.72 million (approx 8 per cent of population) getting online. This calculation brings us closer to the number given for Sri Lanka in the Internet World Stats website. It lists for Sri Lanka: “1,776,200 Internet users as of Jun/10, 8.3% penetration, per ITU.”

As far as I know, the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) collects national statistics from its member governments and collates them to discern regional and global trends. ITU’s free country data compilation on Internet users says Sri Lanka had 12.00 Internet users per 100 population in 2010.

The ITU focal point in Sri Lanka is the TRCSL, whose own published data is mentioned above. What am I missing here?

A researcher friend who had access to Wireless Intelligence, a subscription only service containing well over 5 million individual data points on 940 operators (across 2,200 networks) and 55 groups in 225 countries, found yet another statistic.

According to WI, Sri Lanka by end 2010 had:
• 1,971,018 mobile broadband subscribers
• 213,000 fixed broadband subscribers

This produced a total of 2,184,018 — which takes the percentage of population to almost 11%. And if we apply the same average number of 3 users, it could give us 30% of population accessing and using the Internet. But is that assumption of 3 users per subscription equally applicable to mobile devices? I’m not sure. I’ll wait for industry experts to clarify.

In fact, neither industry sources and researchers have a reliable figure of how many smartphones are in use in Sri Lanka. Because a significant number comes in through private channels (via returning travellers or Lankan expatriates), the looking simply at the import figures could be misleading. A conservative estimate is that at least one million smartphones with Internet access capability are in use. The number keeps growing.

Exactly how many such smartphone users go online on a regular basis? What kind of info do they look up? How long on average do they stay online per session?

If you know the answers, or have reflected on these, please share.

Let’s hope more reliable data would emerge from the 2011 countrywide census of population. An early report (July 2010) said: “Information will also be collected for the first time on people’s communication methods.”

4 April 2011: Fraudband or Broadband? Find out for yourself! New film tells how…

28 March 2011: What’s the universal icon for the Internet? Is there one?

4 Responses to “Just how many Internet users in Sri Lanka? Depends on whom you ask…”

  1. Jon Groves - Wireless Intelligence Says:

    I agree with your point in that it does indeed depend on who you ask but would like to point out that for mobile broadband much of the variation you note relates to the use of non-standardised definitions meaning that consistent measurement is almost impossible. As there is no consistent definition many mobile operators (and regulators for that matter) apply their own definitions for what they consider constitutes mobile broadband. Indeed for many mobile operators mobile broadband is simply used as marketing term for a certain product category such as dongles/datacards while other mobile operators make no attempt to standardise the minimum speed of the connection they advertise as mobile broadband.

    I would also like to point out that the figures you have attributed to Wireless Intelligence in your blog are inaccurate. Wireless Intelligence solely provides mobile data and therefore the fixed broadband subscribers you mention as sourced indirectly from us are certainly not our figure. Additionally, for the definitional reasons I have outlined above neither do we provide a figure for mobile broadband subscribers as such. The figure you are quoting is closest to the figure for 3G connections (with 3G being as defined by the ITU) and therefore should probably not be taken directly as a mobile broadband figure, though I accept that many people rightly or wrongly use 3G connections as a proxy figure when discussing mobile broadband. I can’t be certain without knowing the definition used by the by TRCSL but I would suspect that the provisional mobile broadband figure reported by them is more likely relate to the product category of dongles/datacards and hence is likely to be substantially lower than if a broader definition of mobile broadband was applied.

  2. annaraefm Says:


    I am trying to find out the number of smartphones in Sri Lanka and I’ve just read a report that means there must be LESS than 1 million smartphones in use in Sri Lanka as that would mean it would be in the top 42 countries – according to this data, it must be less than 3%, meaning that your figure go 1 million is too high.

    Hope that helps

  3. Infas Says:

    Here is my latest analysis on Sri Lanka internet penetration and the mobile internet usage in 2014, hope this will be useful.


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