The number of internet connections in the country topped the 2 million mark last year.
According to official data there were 2.012 million internet connections as at end 2013, up by 47% from 2012. The year 2013 also marked fourth successive year of high double digit growth in internet connections from a low base though the rate of growth has dipped a bit. In 2012, the growth over 2011 was 61.7% whilst in 2010 it was 109%.
The sharp growth in internet services was described as the key highlight in the telecommunications sector last year by the Central Bank in its 2013 Annual Report.
“Total internet connections grew by 47% during 2013 increasing internet penetration (connections per 100 persons) to 9.8%. This was largely supported by the accelerated growth in mobile internet connections, followed by the fixed internet connections,” Central Bank said.
“Actual internet penetration and access to internet may be much higher than the above estimates, as these do not include those who are connected to internet via mobile phones without having a proper data package,” it added.
Central Bank said additionally common access points such as workplaces, Nenasala Centres, private internet cafes and household fixed line internet connections have been considered as single connections, despite having accessibility for multiple users.
Considering the rapid expansion in the coverage of Third Generation (3G), Fourth Generation (4G) and fixed line internet services by mobile and fixed line operators, it is expected that the growth momentum in internet penetration will continue in the upcoming years.
Moreover, low entry costs, competitive pricing and promotional schemes from operators are expected to facilitate this trend.
According to a report published by the International Telecommunication Union in May 2013, Sri Lanka ranks first in the world for the lowest entry level fixed broadband charges.
Central Bank said the Information and Communication Technology Agency (ICTA) has been consistently enabling accessibility to information and communication services while improving efficiency, effectiveness, and quality of services in government organisations.
“Such training programs have facilitated the development of a trained pool of professionals in government service with ICT leadership, and technical skills and capacity, including relevant eGovernment competencies,” Central Bank said.
It also said in the Networked Readiness Index (NRI), compiled by the World Economic Forum (WEF), Sri Lanka has improved its ranking to 69 in 2013 from the 71 position in 2012. This improvement reflects Sri Lanka’s strength in the ICT sector, indicating the potential of the country to utilise ICT and other related technologies in socio-economic development.
Central Bank also said the TRC continued to actively facilitate the development of the telecommunications industry. The TRC released the frequency spectrum for 4G mobile broadband to support the expansion of modern mobile broadband technology and 4G services were commercially launched in 2013. Recognising the importance of continued provisioning of telecommunication services at affordable prices, the TRC has initiated several measures to promote shared resources among service providers to reduce the cost of infrastructure expansion so that tariffs can be further reduced.
As proposed in the Government Budget in 2014, the TRC increased the telecommunication levy on voice calls from 20% to 25% from January 2014. However, the levy on internet services had been kept unchanged at 10%.
In 2013, 54 new Nenasala Centres were established island wide, increasing the total number of Nenasala Centres to 741, enabling the rural community to have better access to Information and Communication Technology (ICT) based services. Out of those, 41 new Nenasala Centres were established in the Northern Province to support rapid development in conflict affected areas.
During the year, 74 government organisations were connected to the Lanka Government Network (LGN), which provides remote services to citizens through secure electronic communications. As of end 2013, around 550 central and provincial government organisations have been connected to the LGN. ICTA has also focused on the skills development of government officers, students and the general public through various training and diploma programs and Nenasala Centres.
The TRC also actively engaged in activities to improve awareness among fixed and mobile phone users regarding the quality of internet facilities provided by different service providers with a vision to stimulate quality-oriented competition among service providers. The TRC is also in the process of establishing regulations for quality of fixed and mobile voice services. The construction of the Colombo Lotus Tower, which will facilitate the transmission of signals of 50 television channels and over 35 radio stations while providing numerous commercial and entertainment amenities, is expected to be completed by 2015.
The Central Bank said a commendable usage of communication and information technology (IT) services in economic activities was seen in recent years. During 2013, IT and communication services were increasingly utilised by financial institutions to improve effectiveness and efficiency of economic activities through services such as e-banking, mobile banking, mobile point of sales and common automated teller machine switch. However it is essential to explore more innovative bank-based models through advanced communication services while reducing operational costs through infrastructure sharing, IT platforms and automated systems.
The rapid growth in the IT and Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) industry in the country supported Sri Lanka to rank among the top 25 countries in world rankings. Low cost and skilful labour, improving working ethic, benign doing business environment and favourable time zone have helped the country to achieve the current rankings. However, communication service providers have still more to develop infrastructure, thereby facilitating the expansion in the IT/BPO industry and the Knowledge Process Outsourcing (KPO) industry in order to raise Sri Lanka’s position further among the best outsourcing countries in the world. The earnings from IT/BPO services in Sri Lanka are expected to reach $ 1 billion by 2015.