Saudi Arabia’s mobile subscriber base has fallen by a tenth in two years following reduced quotas for religious pilgrims, a crackdown on illegal workers and stricter phone registration requirements, data from the industry regulator shows.
The drop to 51 million subscriptions as of Sept. 30, 2013, the most recently available data, from 56.1 million two years earlier marks the end of a remarkable growth phase that led the country to claim one of highest proliferations of mobile phones globally. The kingdom’s population was 27 million in July 2013, according to the CIA factbook.
Saudi’s religious authorities cut the number of foreign pilgrims permitted at Islam’s annual haj by a fifth last year to allow expansion work at Mecca’s Grand Mosque. In 2012, more than 3 million people visited Mecca for the pilgrimage in what is a huge money-spinner for the mobile phone companies.
Foreign visitors often buy mobile subscriptions from Saudi’s telecom operators for the duration of their stay, usually to text or call home or local Saudi numbers.