Sri Lanka has seen a very strong increase in mobile broadband penetration over the past six years, driven by rising usage of online video and the price drop of LTE-enabled smartphones.
However, Research & Markets reports that the market remains at an early stage of development, with penetration well below most other developed Asian countries. Strong growth is predicted over the next five years at least.
Fixed broadband penetration in Sri Lanka remains very low, partly due to poor fixed-line infrastructure and partly to the dominance of the mobile platform. However, the market has developed well over the last few years, albeit from a low base, and is supported by the two main telcos providing bundled service offerings including mobile, fixed broadband and video content. The telecom sector overall is being bolstered by the continuous expansion of the fibre and LTE networks, as well as growing investment in 5G.
Sri Lanka is building a national fibre network linked to numerous international cables. This 45,000km network, built and managed by Sri Lanka Telecom, will serve as the backbone for fixed broadband and mobile services, including 5G. Additionally, a cable connecting Sri Lanka to the Maldives has been commissioned and is expected to go live at the end of 2020.
The government's Board of Investment of Sri Lanka supports the development of the telecom sector. Its funding - as approved in 2018 and 2019 - provided significant investment for network expansion and upgrades to mobile and fixed broadband infrastructure.
The market is now preparing to move from 4G towards 5G mobile services. Dialog Axiata and Mobitel conducted pre-commercial 5G trials during 2019, and Dialog has thus far repurposed 20% of its LTE antennae for 5G. The operators aim to invest $254 million in network expansion.
The fierce competition in the mobile market pushed Hutchison Lanka to merge with Etisalat Lanka in December 2018, being rebranded as Hutch and becoming the third largest operator in the country.