While we are left with only four days for SIM verification process before un-registered SIMs to get blocked on May 17th (which also happens to be the World Telecom Day), it looks cellular companies and the mobile phone users won’t be able to complete cent percent verification of SIM data.
From what we have noted, during interviews with various mobile company officials, they aren’t confident that the issue of un-registered SIMs will get fully resolved after the practice. But everyone, be it the cellular operators, the authority or the work force, they seem to be on same page for eliminating all un-registered SIMs from their records.
If everyone wants to cure the problem then what’s the hurdle? Answer to this is: The verification mechanism and inaction of end user!
Before we get into details, it is important to note here that we are dealing with two kind of unregistered SIMs:
- Un-registered SIMs
- Registered SIMs but with Fake id or wrong id
Un-registered SIMs were issued during pre-789 era (before January 2009), when cellular companies bulkily sold SIMs without even getting the forms filled. These SIMs are usually registered in the name of distributors / resellers.
PTA claims during two phases, in 2008, the campaign against unnamed and unregistered SIMs it had blocked 16.3 million unregistered SIMs. However, it did not have issued the figure as how many SIMs of which operator was blocked.
Then there comes those un-registered SIMs, i.e. which are still being used by customers but are not registered to their names.
Now the real trouble is to identify those SIMs which are wrongly registered or they were registered with fake IDs. Again, such kind of SIMs were mainly issued during pre-789 time, when one ID card was used to register hundreds of SIMs.
This is where end-users or mobile phone subscribers need to play their role. They need to identify all the SIMs issued against their CNIC. They must get those SIMs blocked which are not in their use.
How many SIMs will get Blocked on May 17th?
We have spoken to officials of all cell phone companies, but they are un-clear about SIMs that may get blocked on May 17th. They are not even certain about One SIM per One CNIC rule, as hinted by the Minister Interior.
By definition, all those SIMs with fake registration or those SIMs used by customers and are not in their name should get blocked. But seemingly only those SIMs are going to get blocked which would be requested by mobile phone users (through 668).
If so, then estimates suggest that 6-8 million connections are going to get whipped out from the records of cellular companies.
However, if the deadline of 17th May, 2011 is extended, this number of blocked SIM may increase as well to probably hit the maximum of 10-12 million mark.
It merits mentioning here that around 400,000 subscribers are getting their numbers verified through 668 with their respective operators every day.
All cellular companies have reached out to their customers through text messages, asking them to send their CNIC numbers to 668 to get their SIM ownership corrected.
Telenor has gone one step ahead and is airing TVCs to make the mobile phone users realize their responsibility of registering their SIMs.
We have heard that Ufone is incentivizing customers with Android handsets if they verify their connections. Following is one one such SMS sent to a ProPakistani reader:
Dear Customer, Reply to this SMS with Ur CNIC (without -) to avoid Blocking of SIM. Also WIN FREE Google ANDROID Handsets through Lucky Draw. It’s all about U!
If everyone wants to cure the problem then what’s the hurdle?
As mentioned above, there are two issue,
The mechanism of eliminating unregistered SIMs and the end user!
Let’s first discuss the end user. A common mobile phone user is apparently not very serious about registering his/her SIM. This can be because of our irresponsible nature, lack of awareness or otherwise non-availability of service centers in their respective towns/cities.
You may know that not every city is equipped with cellular companies’ service centers. In this situation, a customer may not opt to get his/her SIM data verified for which he has to travel 100 plus kilometers, especially when he is not responsible for the wrongdoings. It wasn’t him/her who sold SIMs in his/her CNIC in first place.
Now cellular companies want the end users to play their role in correcting the data, however, we all know it is unrealistic to believe that 105 million SIMs will get corrected through this approach.
To just give you an example, through sources we have learned that SIMs of our political leaders are not in their name too.
For instance, Minister Interior, Rahman Malik’s one number that he uses is not in his name. Similarly, Information Minister Firdos Ashiq Awan and Defense Minister Ahmed Mukhtar and Kashmir Affair Minister Manzoor Wattu’s cell phone numbers are not issued to their names.
According to sources, Rahman Malik’s this one particular number is registered to Ministry Interior, while Firdos Ashiq Awan’s number is registered in the name of Ministry of Population, while she is now information minister.
It merits mentioning here that PTA had issued an SOP in July 2010 for corporate customers, to include individual details as well while issuing a number to corporations/ government / non-government entities – according to which, up-mentioned ministers need to update their information with cellular companies in order to comply with PTA rules.
This depicts the nature of problem we are dealing with. A significant number of mobile phone users won’t bother to go to service centers to get their data corrected.
The Ultimate Solution:
This is where we need to think of a better way out to completely eliminate the issue of unregistered SIMs, once and for all
I have previously proposed too, in fact back in 2009, to re-register every SIM, and block those which aren’t registered during given a time frame.
This is the only way to get the data corrected for each and every SIM.
PTA needs to sit with cellular operators, consultants and experts to devise a strategy to how to re-register each and every SIM. PTA can in fact hire ICT companies to automate the whole process – let me define a prototype of such an automated system which will re-register SIMs without much of human-involvement:
Case One: Your SIM is registered in your name, and you want to re-register
Mobile phone users, who have SIMs registered in their name can be asked to send their CNICs to a short code, for instance, ask them to send their CNICs to 5555.
In response, system can ask 2-3 questions from the mobile phone users, which they can reply via SMS through same short code.
System should be capable of recognizing the answers, and if answered well, the SIM would get re-registered to the user it already belonged to, that too without visiting a service center or involving any human.
Case two: Your SIM isn’t registered in your name, or you were unable to answer the questions asked by system:
In this case, mobile phone user should go to nearest service center, fill the form, present his/her CNIC, thumb impression and get the SIM re-registered.
PTA can run this campaign for one whole year maybe, and at the deadline – all un-registered SIMs can be blocked.
Those customers having multiple SIMs can repeat the process for all the SIMs they are using.
- There will be no SIM left without proper ownership
- All those in-active, un-used numbers will be set free
- 100 percent SIMs will be registered in the country.
Of course, the above mentioned prototype can be bettered in so many ways.
Is 668 a Reliable Service?
Not really, if you really need to know the exact number of SIMs issued against your CNIC, then visit service center of all operators.
We have seen in past, observed lately too, that 668 data can be out-dated and may not communicate you the exact number of SIMs issued against your CNIC.
Officials of all cellular companies and the PTA know that these “Block Unregistered SIMs” campaigns are just nothing more than seasonal trends, which will belittle in just couple of months. However, after a quarter or two, Rahman Malik may issue another statement of blocking all un-registered SIMs, and these mobile operators will have to block another 5-10 million SIMs.
But that’s not the solution, this is not how PTA should kill the issue by firing in the air. The time has become when our regulator should sit with operators to devise a permanent, doable and efficient solution to eliminate the problem – after all it’s PTA and cellular companies who are the main culprits.
So cellular companies, PTA, and mobile phone users need to be responsible here, and play their core role for the betterment of the country.