Blocking pre-paid SIMs may plunge telecom sector into crisis

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By Paras Ali

AN IMBROGLIO-LIKE situation has emerged plunging the telecom sector as the stakeholders including cell phone companies and the common users into deep shock following the National Assemblys select committee recommending elimination of all pre-paid SIMs in the country and converting the post-paid SIMs mechanism to tackle the crimes being committed through misuse of thee illegal SIMs.

Similarly, Interior Minister Rehman Malik meanwhile declared that over-the-counter sale of mobile phone SIMs would be banned from next month, and the cellular companies would be required to dispatch the purchased SIMs at the customers address. Besides, a ban has been imposed on mobile number portability (MNP), with the exception of cell phone subscribers from changing over to other networks while keeping the number from the first company.

Experts look this move very sound as far as controlling the crime rate in the country, however, they have sharp doubts the government will make any progress in this regard rather this immature decision would open a Pandoras box leading all the stakeholders back to the square one.

“The political leadership of the country has gone brainsick, and they are throwing absolutely undoable ideas of no match in the whole world. Instead of rectifying their own mistakes, they are making the industry worth over $15 billion to bear the brunt of the whole situation,” remarked Sattar Niazi, who is deeply involved in one of the local mobile companies SIMs sale across the country.

He suggested that all the operators should start blocking more than one SIM on single CNIC. For customers having a connection on one CNIC in more than one network should be sent an SMS in 2nd Phase to choose which network the user prefers and the rest should be blocked.

Alarm bells have started ringing in the telecom industry as well as the telecom players are furious and look sick of these statements by the present political leadership.

“Though telecom officials are open to work with the government in order to completely eliminate the issue of illegal SIMs, however, it should also reconsider some of its decisions to save the industry from unnecessary concerns,” a senior executive of a cell phone company, requesting anonymity said while specifically commenting on the proposal to block all pre-paid SIMs.

He said that controlling illegal use of SIMs can be doable on the pattern the government has done with replacing the old national identity cards with CNICs in a specified time period. According to him, around 1.5 million SIMs may be unregistered and it does not sound well to block around 95 million pre-paid SIMs operative across the country. “This would be tantamount to ruining the whole telecom industry which has done huge investments during the last couple of years,” the official said with grave concern.

The PTA should ask all existing mobile SIM owners to personally appear before their nearest Nadra offices, submit a list of their mobile phone numbers on a prescribed form, and the data so collected may be sent to the telecom sector watchdog, Zia Jaffery, a telecom sector expert suggested.

He also said that the process of issuing ATM cards by banks is very secure and this can be replicated in the case of issuing SIMs by the cell phone companies after verification of mentioned addresses of consumers.

According to him, the government looks non-serious in handling this issue as the replacement of old IDCs with CNICs is possible, then SIMs verification is, too, doable.

At the same time, the PTA helpline 668 has proved to be carrying flaws as a number of persons using this facility to verify their SIMs record have complained that the reply they got from this helpline at different times showed contradictory information thus making the whole process doubtful.


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