Figures released by the Info-communications Development Authority of Singapore (IDA) show that the island suffered a drastic drop in the number of mobile users last month, despite heightened competition in the market.
In November, Singapore's mobile subscribers totaled 2.77 million--plunging over 300,000 from October.
The decline came as a surprise to analyst Gary Hong, who almost believed the figure to be inaccurate. "If the drop is 100,000, it could be attributed to users cutting costs," said Hong, who oversees the wireless market at IDC Asia Pacific.
The pre-paid segment--more popular among infrequent users, such as retirees, students and foreign workers--was the hardest hit. The number of users fell from 943,200 in October to 670,000 in November as a result of operators updating customer records.
"The drop is largely due to the termination of pre-paid customers who have not been active in the last six months," said IDA spokesperson Jennifer Toh when contacted.
The island's leading mobile operator Singapore Telecommunications Ltd (SingTel), for one, has been busy removing its inactive pre-paid customers since September. In June, SingTel identified about 350,900 inactive (pre-paid) users, a SingTel spokesperson said.
"Inactive users are defined as those who have not topped up their pre-paid cards for more than six months," he said. "Many of them are transit customers--visitors to Singapore on holiday or for business."
"By keeping only active users in our customer base, we free up mobile phone numbers which are limited in supply," he explained. "This practice also reflects our business more accurately."
By July, the operator registered over 671,300 pre-paid customers. SingTel declined to reveal its current subscriber base.
SingTel competitor StarHub Mobile Pte Ltd claimed that its pre-paid users had increased in November, but declined to reveal specifics. By October, StarHub had about 68,000 pre-paid users.
MobileOne (Asia) Pte Ltd (M1), meanwhile, saw a 2 percent increase last month to 190,000 for its pre-paid segment.
The contraction also affected the post-paid market as IDA figures revealed a modest drop in subscriptions to 2.11 million last month from 2.13 million in October.
A large part of the decline can be attributed to StarHub Mobile suspending 10,000 phone lines because of late payment.
"In November, StarHub consolidated its post-paid customer base and this resulted in a temporary decline," said the firm's assistant vice president for marketing Joanna Chan.
StarHub had about 393,000 post-paid customers by October, but the operator would not reveal current figures.
Despite the decline registered by StarHub, M1 said its post-paid customers rose from 744,000 in October to 760,000 in November.
Meanwhile, SingTel declined to reveal current figures, but noted that it had over 1 million post-paid customers as at June.
Newcomer Virgin Mobile (Asia) Pte Ltd declined to provide subscriber figures. However, nine days after it launched its services here on October 12, the company claimed to have registered customers "in the thousands."
Although the October/November drop marks the second consecutive month of decline, the IDA resisted putting any significance to it.
"As the drop in numbers for post-paid customers is observed only over the past two months, it is therefore premature for IDA to establish whether this will be a permanent trend going forward or a temporary fluctuation," IDA's Toh noted.