Social, Digital and Mobile in South Asia

Simon Kemp

We’re sharing a whole clutch of Social, Digital and Mobile in Asia reports today, as we profile a number of different countries across South Asia.

The data for these four countries is slightly thinner than it has been for some of our other reports, but the numbers in today’s presentations tell some interesting stories:


The most striking finding in Pakistan’s digital landscape is that mobile doesn’t appear to be the driving force behind the country’s internet revolution, at least for the time being.

Indeed, fewer than 20% of Pakistan’s internet users log on via mobile devices.

Pakistan’s netizens also appear to have been reluctant to embrace social networking, with barely one quarter of the country’s internet users having registered on social networks.

There may be a number of reasons why popular international platforms don’t fare as well in Pakistan as they do in neighbouring countries, but it’s unclear whether these are the sole causes for the current low levels of social network penetration.

However, we anticipate that Pakistan’s netizens will soon adopt a preferred social network, and we expect to see a significant rise in the number of social media users in the country during the course of 2012.

Sri Lanka

At 85% of the total population, Sri Lanka has the highest rate of rural living out of all the 24 countries in our SDMA studies.

This may be one of the reasons why internet penetration remains below 10%, but also why Sri Lankans have embraced mobile telephony.

In contrast to Pakistan, it appears that mobile access will drive the next wave of internet adoption in Sri Lanka, with the number of people accessing mobile internet services in the country jumping by 169% in one quarter alone earlier this year.

Meanwhile, with more than half the nation’s internet users already on Facebook, we expect to see continued growth in social network penetration in Sri Lanka during 2012 too.

Much of the growth in social media usage in the country will likely be driven by feature phones access, but we anticipate telcos in Sri Lanka will make increasing use of free data connections to sites like Facebook (the offering is already available via the country’s Mobitel network) as a way of enticing new subscribers and converting them into longer-term customers.


Bangladesh’s low levels of urbanisation may be the key reason for the nation’s low level of internet penetration too, although even mobile phones have only recently passed 50% penetration.

However, things are looking very promising for the Bangladeshi internet, with penetration levels jumping 80% in 2010 alone.

Although accurate internet user numbers for the country are hard to come by, the latest figures from Facebook suggest that this rapid expansion has continued through 2011, with the number of registered users on the platform exceeding the total number of internet users by more than 20% (we believe this is a data recency issue rather than a peculiarity of the Bangladeshi digital landscape).

Meanwhile, figures from SocialBakers suggest that this growth may even be accelerating as we move into 2012, with the number of Facebook users growing by around 7% each month (that’s more than 140,000 new accounts every 30 days)

The Maldives

Social network penetration exceeds internet penetration in The Maldives too, although the overall digital landscape in the world’s lowest-lying country is considerably more robust than it is in the countries above.

The Maldives have the highest rates of internet, social network, and mobile penetration of today’s featured countries, although recent data from SocialBakers suggest that social media growth may have plateaued for the time being.

It’s also interesting to note that the country’s social media users skew towards an older demographic compared to many of the other countries we’ve profiled in these SDMA reports, with more than half of the users in the country aged 25 and above. This is in particular contrast to Pakistan, where almost two thirds of the country’s social media users are below the age of 25.

Mobile penetration is also well in excess of 100% in The Maldives, but considering how spread out the country’s population is, these high levels of mobile ownership are quite understandable.

Completing the South Asian picture

No study of the South Asian subcontinent would be complete without an exploration of India, so be sure to compare today’s reports with the numbers we presented in our recent SDMA profile of the country.