Thailand’s National Broadcast and Telecommunication Commission (NBTC) is leading the charge to standardize a regional SIM (subscriber identity module) registration platform for prepaid services in neighboring countries.
The first-of-its-kind regional collaboration highlights a growing trend in SIM registration across emerging markets as governments move to track and curb suspected criminal activity carried out over mobile networks.
The trend also reflects the growing importance of SIM registration as we move rapidly into the Internet of Things era.
Thailand’s national SIM registration scheme will be expanded to Cambodia and Laos, with Myanmar due to enter talks soon.
Using a 10 million Baht (approximately USD284,000) investment, NBTC will develop a mobile app to register prepaid phones using national identification cards and fingerprints. Participating countries will be required to invest in necessary hardware to set up the scheme nationally.
The NBTC hopes the collaboration will help create a single customer data pool, helping the countries work together to prevent crimes including fraud, drug trading, trafficking and terrorism.
It is not yet clear what the deadline for registration will be and whether unregistered SIMs will be cut off thereafter, as was the case in Thailand. The unified registration system could be developed within 18 months, according to the NBTC.
Elsewhere, the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) began registering SIMs in 2011, to help resolve crimes perpetrated with unregistered SIMs. The NCC recently fined South African mobile phone firm MTN a record USD5.2 billion for failing to disconnect unregistered SIMs in late-2015, though a settlement of USD1.7 billion was reached earlier this month.
Similarly, last month, Papua New Guinea began issuing fines of PGK 50,000 per offence [paywall] to mobile operators who fail to register users’ SIMs.
“Surprisingly, many bad people have a large number of SIM cards to do other business, illegal businesses, and money fraudulence is one of them.” – Shahjahan Mahmood, Chairman of the Bangladesh Regulatory Telecommunication Commission
Tanzania has warned that it will revoke the licenses of service providers who do not register SIMs. And Cameroon will deactivate unregistered SIMs from 30 June 2016, with operators required to deploy teams across the county to ensure that registration is implemented.
Meanwhile, Bangladesh has begun disconnecting some 25 million unregistered SIMs throughout the country following an extended deadline for biometric re-registration of mobile SIM cards until 31 May 2016.
The Chairman of the Bangladesh Regulatory Telecommunication Commission Shahjahan Mahmood told an audience of ICT leaders gathered at ITU’s recent Global Symposium for Regulators (GSR) that SIM registration is an important part of the Digital Bangladesh initiative to connect every citizen of the country by data and voice by 2021.
“We’re not safe from any other dangers that other countries are facing. Out of 160 million people we have 133 million SIM cards,” said Mr. Mahmood. “Surprisingly, many bad people have a large number of SIM cards to do other business, illegal businesses, and money fraudulence is one of them. We thought that identifying a person or mapping a person with a SIM card is very important.”
However, as roughly 1.5 billion people worldwide do not have any form of official identification, a variety of registration methodologies are being considered before implementing SIM registration in emerging markets.
By Lucy Spencer, ITU News