Anxiety as telecoms watchdog disconnects fake mobile phones

Mobile phone users keenly look at a cellphone. On June 16, the Tanzania Communications Regulatory Authority cut off from the network thousdands of users holding fake gadgets.   PHOTO | FILE

What you need to know:

  • The Authority has adopted the CEIR technology which ensures the safety of subscribers when using their communication accessories, including mobile phones and tablets. Thousands of fake gadgets, cellphones in particular, were disconnected shortly after June 16 midnight

Dar es Salaam. Mobile phone users were gripped with anxiety in 2016 following the decision by the Tanzania Communications Regulatory Authority (TCRA) to cut counterfeit cellphones off the country’s telecommunication networks effective June 16. TCRA had announced the decision in December 2015, saying the Authority had introduced the Central Equipment Identification Register (CEIR) to step up security of mobile phones.

According to the Authority, the CEIR ensures the safety of users when applying communication accessories, including mobile phones and tablets. Also, the Authority said the decision was part of the implementation of the Electronics, Postal and Communications Act enacted in 2010.

The watchdog listed other reasons that prompted it to reach such a decision as to strengthen revenue collections and to protect people’s health and their economies.

This annual review brings you what transpired in the process. Also, the feature highlights steps to be followed to dismantle the waste to ensure the country is environmentally safe and protected.

January 27, 2016  

Experts revealed the economic and health impacts of using fake and substandard mobile phones. Dr Kenneth Halila and Dr Daudi Simbeye of the Dar es Salaam Institute of Technology (DIT) said fake phones were not durable and that users spend a lot of money annually as many gadgets can be used for up to one year. Therefore, according to him, they are not economical as compared to genuine phones.

They also explained that the fake phones had higher levels of radiation and that they could easily explode in the process of charging and when exposed to high temperatures.

They said phone batteries also could easily burst and bring serious problems such as burning a house or a car and that the phones were made of inoperable speakers with low-resolution camera, slow and old processors, resulting in poor network connectivity.

“Since they are not tested for compliance with industry safety standards, they are sometimes manufactured with harmful levels of dangerous elements such as lead,” said Dr Halila from the DIT Electronics and Telecommunications Department.

“Original mobile phones have international standards which protect users, but counterfeit ones can destroy brains of users due to electromagnetic radiation,” added Dr Simbeye from the DIT Computer Engineering Department.

February 16, 2016

Tigo, the mobile operator in the country, joined the TCRA in spreading the awareness of the dangers facing users of counterfeit devices. With a 30 per cent subscription share in a market of 36 million subscribers, Tigo launched a special campaign targeting its customers and the general public.

Customers and the public were asked to visit their shops and get genuine phones to free themselves from inconveniences after the June 2016 deadline.

March 12, 2016

TCRA announced that 30 per cent of the total mobile phone subscribers in the country would be disconnected by June 16 as they were owning fake mobile phones, despite the fact that Tanzania registered a 16 per cent increase of subscribers to 31.86 in 2014.

The announcement was made in Rukwa during a stakeholders meeting that involved the Authority, then regional commissioner Said Magalula and journalists.

TCRA Frequency Management Engineer Imelda Salum said the 2015 TCRA report showed that the number of Internet users had increased by 22 per cent to 11.35 million.

March 21, 2016

The Authority said it would release telephone numbers of people owning fake handsets, saying a system has been developed to ensure fake mobile phones are not registered.

TCRA’s Head of Corporate Communications Innocent Mungy told reporters in Arusha that many counterfeit mobile phones illegally entered the market, making it difficult to control the influx. “Clients are now educated on how to differentiate fake products from genuine ones,” he said.

April 12, 2016

TCRA reiterated that the deadline for switching off the counterfeit mobile phones stood unchanged, despite the fact that some people had been requesting for an extension.

TCRA Director General Mr Yahya Simba told reporters in Dodoma that there was no need for an extension because people had enough time to switch to original handsets. “People have over six months to purchase new gadgets after the announcement we made in December last year,” he stressed.

Works, Transport and Communications Minister Prof Makame Mbarawa supported the decision as he was quoted as saying two days later during his interview in a local radio station in Dar es Salaam, “The deadline will stand. Fake phones should be cut off from the network due to their side-effects on users. First of all, these phones lack quality checks. Secondly, in the long run, they are a cost to consumers as they do not last for long”.

May 04, 2016

The decision to cut off fake mobile phones from the network sent shockwaves to dealers who resorted to the wait-and-see-approach, resulting in an increase in prices of original handsets.

A survey by The Citizen in major mobile phone shops at Kariakoo established that prices of smart phones ranged from Sh100, 000 to Sh1.5 million, depending on the type and manufacturer. Others were sold at a price of between Sh25, 000 and Sh70, 000.

Mr Abdallah Salehe, a Vingunguti resident, who wanted to replace his stolen handset he bought for Sh35, 000 in 2014, was left at the crossroads after finding out that the same brand was shockingly selling at Sh45, 000.

“Frankly speaking, original phones have been going up following the TCRA decision,” said Ms Dotinata Joseph, a mobile phones dealer at Kariakoo’s KZG Shop.

May 23, 2016

The opposition Civic United Front (CUF) held a press conference at the party’s headquarters in Dar es Salaam, pressing for the government to compensate people, whose phones were facing the switched off in order to enable them to buy genuine devices.

The secretary of the party’s youth wing, Mr Mahmoud Muhinda, said the government had failed to block the fake devices from finding their way into the country.

He said poor Tanzanians who couldn’t afford expensive phones should not be made to pay for the government failure to ensure only genuine products were sold to consumers. “TCRA have the obligation of safeguarding the interests of those who pay their salaries,” said Mr Mulinda. However, the call fell into a deaf ear.

June 05, 2016

The Assistant Lecturer with  Dar es Salaam University College of Education (Duce), Ms Saumu Jumanne, concurred with the CUF official, raising questions how the fake mobile phones found their way into the country’s local market.

In her weekly column on The Citizen which goes by the name of ‘Crossroads’, she posed several questions over what transpired to the government to the extent of allowing the fake mobile phones to get into the country. “A commoner is going to pay the price for the failure of agencies that could have stopped the importation of fake mobile phones,” she argued.

June 05, 2016

TCRA announced that the number of fake mobile phones had decreased from 40 per cent in December last year to 13 per cent in March, this year, due to the introduction of the International Mobile Equipment Identification (IMEA).

Speaking in Musoma District, Mara Region, the authority’s Corporate Communications Manager, Mr Mungy, said an awareness campaign using radio and TV stations, brochures, artists as well as social media was successful.

June 13, 2016

Mobile phone users flocked Mlimani City mobile phone shops in Dar es Salaam to verify their mobile phones, while others bought new handsets.

Ms Barbara John and Ms Neema Eliezer were among customers who went to verify their phones at a Tigo shop just to be sure whether they were genuine. “They told me my phone is okay so at least I can be easy now,” said Ms John.

“I had to buy a new genuine phone through a promotion price of Sh60,000 after the IMEI of my phone was confirmed fake. But, the price has increased. I spent only  Sh22,000 on purchasing the same brand in 2014,” said Ms Eliezer.

June 14, 2016

Reports showed that traders were anxiously waiting for the switch-off, hoping that sales would pick up again after the deadline had elapsed.

The new hope came after they had recorded business deterioration following the decision to disconnect bogus phones. On the contrary, mobile phone users still pleaded with authorities to have the deadline pushed forward.

Mr Babu Ali Said and Mr Idd Ally who run their business at Kariakoo told The Citizen that they had experienced poor sales since the beginning of the year, forcing them to use alternative sources of income to pay rent and salaries.

June 17, 2016

TCRA announced to have switched off 603,000 fake mobile phones with an analysis showing that 96.95 per cent of International Mobile Equipment Identities (IMEIs) were valid.

According to the June 14 analysis, at least 2.9 per cent of mobile phones, modems, and Ipads were fake. But, Tanzanians took to social media sharing jokes, videos, photos and messages depicting their experiences.

“I survived,” wrote Ms Theresia Mabesa on her Facebook wall and received hundreds of comments from her friends, many of them sharing their joy as their phones were still working.

July 4, 2016

TCRA announced that a total of 1,713,337 invalid mobile phone identity numbers (IMEIs) were disconnected on June 16.

The Acting Director General, Mr James Kilaba, told reporters that 117,389 IMEIs were duplicate, adding that it was difficult to determine the number of handsets affected as one mobile phone could have up to four IMEIs.

“It is not that 1.7 million handsets have been switched off. It’s their IMEIs. One mobile phone handset can have up to four IMEIs,” TCRA’s Head of Corporate Communications said in his clarification.

He said the Authority had directed the companies to de-activate all unregistered SIM cards in the market and submit a report of compliance to the Authority by July 31.

“Mobile phone service providers are also obliged to establish equipment identity registers that will help them to monitor their customers’ devices that will be linked to TCRA’s CEIR,” Mr Kilaba said.

e-waste management

In spite of being deactivated, fake mobile phones are dangerous e-waste to be left in the households as they may cause serious health hazards.

The National Environmental Management Steering Committee in its meeting on June 9, 2016  resolved that importers and distributors should collect disconnected mobile phones for dismantling.

The meeting was attended by the Vice President’s Office (VPO), TCRA and the National Environmental Management Committee (NEMC), among key stakeholders.

Others are mobile phone operators; MIC Tanzania Ltd, Airtel, Vodacom, Zantel, Tanzania Telecommunications Limited (TTCL), Smile and Viettel.

Collectors that include: Veritas Technical Assurance Limited, Chilambo General Trade Company, Sangiwe’s Company Limited and the sole dismantlers, OK Plast also attended the meeting.

NEMC’s Director of Environmental Compliance and Enforcement, Dr Ruth Lugwisha, told The Citizen that during the meeting mobile phone operators were ordered to collect all disabled mobile phones to respective district offices.

“From the district offices, mobile phones will be collected by Chilambo General Trade Company who won the tender among the three bidders. The company will hand over the bulk to OK Plast for dismantling,” she said.

Speaking on the collection progress, TCRA Information Officer Semu Mwakyanjala said people were responding well by surrendering disabled phones to collectors.

Dismantling process

OK Plast dismantling specialist Siki Magoha told The Citizen in an exclusive interview that during the dismantling mobile phones were separated according to materials of composition, keeping plastics, batteries and mother bodies separately.

He said technologically, Tanzania is incapable of recycling mobile phone batteries and mother bodies as they contain copper, silver, lead, gold and sometimes hazardous gases. According to him, they are therefore packaged and transported to technologically developed counties, including Germany and Belgium. Only plastics materials are recycled locally.

“After the packaging, VPO officials are invited for inspection to ensure that all safety precautions have been considered and that the transportation process is not threatening the lives of living things and the environment,” he said.

“The VPO office also issues signed transboundary forms allowing legal transportation of e-wastes to designated countries,” he added.