Smooth Talking

COLOMBO, Feb 20, 2007 (AFP) – Sri Lanka’s telecom sector soared in 2006 to 7.3 million users, led by a 59 percent jump in new mobile phone connections on competition and falling call rates, the telecom watchdog said Tuesday.

Despite a waiting list of around 366,000 for fixed-line phone services, the Sri Lanka Telecommunications Regulatory Commission said mobile phones, including GSM and CDMA systems, had allowed rural residents to get phone services immediately.

Fixed-line subscribers rose to 1.9 million in 2006 from 1.2 million a year ago after the commission gave CDMA (code division multiple access) licences allowing three firms to use the cheaper technology and expand in rural areas.

The number of cellular phone users grew to 5.4 million in 2006 from 3.4 million a year earlier, as operators slashed tariffs by up to 40 percent.

The clear majority of new users buy pre-paid cards, the commission said.

With India’s largest private phone company, Bharti Airtel, lined up to be the fifth mobile phone player, analysts expect further price cuts, especially outside the capital, to tap rural users in the nation of 19 million.

Bharti, which is due to start services by year-end, has promised to invest 100 milli