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SIM card registration stirs concern in Africa

o Michael Malakata
14.05.2010 kl 16:29 |

As more African governments move to register prepaid mobile SIM cards, concerns are rising over the impact of the initiative on the performance of mobile operators.


As more African governments move to register prepaid mobile SIM cards, concerns are rising over the impact of the initiative on the performance of mobile operators.

There is growing evidence that SIM card registration laws that were introduced in South Africa, Tanzania, Botswana and Cameroon within the last few months are slowing down customer growth, as subscribers hesitate to give out their personal details to service providers. Some subscribers are worried that SIM card registration will give authorities the ability to monitor people wherever they may be, examining conversations, text messages and Internet activity.

Operators, meanwhile, are concerned that card registration is putting a damper on subscriber growth, leading to a decline in revenue. The registration of SIM cards is already making it difficult for pan-African mobile service provider Zain to roll out and implement the One Network service because some countries in which Zain has a presence have no SIM registration laws while others do.

One Network is already operational in 10 countries in Africa and the Middle East, offering local rates with no roaming charges. Zain subscribers, however, will not be able to register their SIM cards in all the countries where the service is available.

African governments claim that the implementation of the SIM cards registration is aimed at tracking down criminals who use cell phones to commit crimes, and will not slow down growth.

Africa is experiencing phenomenal growth in the use of mobile phones compared to other regions of the world. Many phones are stolen every day, and criminals also use mobile devices to commit crimes. In Nigeria and Somalia, for example, criminals are using mobile phones in ship hijackings, abduction of foreign oil workers and as a way to demand ransom.

In Tanzania, however, thousands of subscribers have already refused to register their SIM cards. The telecom regulator plans to deactivate cards that are not registered. Other African countries, including Zambia, Uganda and Kenya, are still considering SIM card registration.

"SIM card registration is good for security reasons because of high cases of thefts. We are in support of Zambia introducing the registration," said Milner Makuni, past president of the Computer Society of Zambia.

The Nigerian government, through the Nigeria Communications Commission (NCC), kicked off its SIM card registration campaign last week for new subscribers but excluded existing subscribers. Nigeria is Africa's largest telecom market. Skeptics have questioned the ability of the NCC to register the existing 70 million subscribers, since neither the regulator nor the mobile operators have data for those users.

The global financial services company USB has already lowered forecasts for mobile provider MTN amid concerns that subscriber registration would lead to lower revenue this year.

MTN and Vodacom last year both recorded a slowdown in customer growth and blamed it on the SIM card registration law. MTN operates in more then 16 countries in Africa while Vodacom operates in five nations on the continent, including Tanzania, Mozambique, Lesotho and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

In South Africa, the Regulation of Interception of Communications and Provision of Communication Related Information Act (RICA) came into force in July last year. As in many countries in Africa where SIM card registration laws have been enacted, anyone who buys a card in Nigeria and South Africa without registering risks being arrested and prosecuted by police. The theory is that if a call is linked to a crime, the police can find out who bought the SIM card that was used.

But mobile service providers and subscribers claim that the registration is working against the principle of universal access and add to the cost of SIM cards as vendors will invest more in data capturing-technology. Many operators in Africa also claim that attempts by authorities to register in-bound roamers will have a negative impact on foreign currency inflow, owing to muted use of mobile roaming services as tourists shy away from registration.

Meanwhile, countries that have already enacted registration rules appear to be in the middle of a long process. The president of the National Association of Telecommunication Subscribers in Nigeria, Deolu Ogunbanjo, said that the process of registration has been messy, arguing that the NCC has failed to do enough homework to enlighten subscribers and mobile operators about the program.

Keywords: Government  Consumer Electronics  
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