It is well-known that Botswana has one of the highest mobile phone penetration-rates in Africa ÔÇô but the fact that cellphones are stolen and used for criminal purposes has forced countries like Botswana , South Africa , Tanzania , Nigeria and Sierra Leone to introduce SIM card registration laws. Will these laws do more harm than good to the cellphone industry, though?
SIM card registration means that it is much more difficult for criminals to get away with handset theft and crime in general.
However, the strict laws have mobile operators up in arms, saying that a slow-down in customer growth is a real by-product of the legislation.
Prospective customers are not keen to go through the registration process and existing customers will have their SIM cards deactivated at the end of the year if they do not comply with the registration requirements, according to Botswana Telecommunications Corporation.
Naturally, there is controversy surrounding registration.
“Registration makes it easy for security agents to target people, particularly media sources, in order to satisfy personal and political interests,” said Thapelo Ndlovu, the director of the Botswana chapter of the Media Institute of Southern Africa.
South African technology expert, Andrew October, who publishes a weekly MobiMonkey technology newsletter, pointed out the benefits: “The Regulation of Interception of Communications and Provision of Communication Related Information Act (RICA) is merely a global response to our ever-changing world. With one in six cellphones in South Africa being instruments for criminal activity, and with the FIFA World Cup being hosted here in 2010, it is imperative that government gets a handle on criminal and possible terror activities,” he said.
Operators’ complaints are twofold.
First, they claim that fewer subscribers are signing up, and they blame the legislation. But October feels that there are other contributing factors. “There could be a number of reasons for the decreasing rate of new connections,” he said.
“The most significant is the fact that our South African market has already reached 105 percent penetration.
Prepaid also has a very high churn, so RICA could conceivably be acting as a stabilising factor for churn activity. We must be careful not to believe all that the cellphone networks have to say. They had four years to prepare for RICA and chose to ignore the impending introduction of the new legislation.”
Further afield in Africa, other operators object that when authorities register in-bound roamers they chase away foreign currency, as tourists are less likely to want to register. Also, pan-African mobile service providers like Zain will be hampered in rolling out its borderless One Network service because some countries have registration laws and others do not, according to Amos Makanya of the Southern Africa Communication Agency.
One Network is available in 10 African and Middle Eastern countries ÔÇô subscribers can call any country where the service is available at local rates, with no roaming charges.
However, its subscribers will not be able to register SIM cards in all countries for roaming. So perhaps the cellphone operators’ qualms about the registration are worth noting. Meanwhile, the consumer will have to stand in those registration queues ÔÇô or face prosecution.