The issue of un-verified SIMs is still being debated between telecom companies and Interior Ministry and things are still on the roll without any conclusion.
While we have clearly proven that blaming telecom companies for causing terrorism or even crimes is simply a nonsense, interior ministry is still standing still on its day one stance.
Just in case if you are not familiar with the background, Pakistani telcos are asked by the government to re-verify its entire prepaid and postpaid subscribers with biometric verification of customers in 28 days.
While we understand that re-verification of SIMs is important for various reasons but one must not associate unverified SIMs with terrorism or crimes in the country.
Rectification of SIMs in 28 days is Not Possible!
We also know that cellular firms are ready to re-verify SIMs — based on their responsibility towards society for having registered and verified customers — the un-due pressure from Interior Ministry for re-verifying SIMs in 28 days or a certain duration is beyond comprehension.
Here are few reasons that you can’t re-verify 140 million customers in 28 days:
- Telecom companies won’t be able to verify more than more than just 2.4 million SIMs if every franchise and service centre verifies one customer in one second, round the clock, seven days a week for 28 days.
- If retailers are asked to re-verify (which they won’t unless there’s an incentive because they aren’t company employees and won’t work back-to-back unless they are paid) then they have to re-verify 2500 SIMs every minute to complete re-verification in 28 days.
- With Biometric Verification System installed at limited retailers, there are many far-flung areas which aren’t in access to such retailers who have BVS solution deployed with them.
- Pakistanis (as a nation) aren’t pro-active individuals. They took years to get their mandatory CNICs registered and it seems almost impossible for them to get to the service centres, franchises or to retailers to re-verify their SIMs with-in one month.
If someone is still pressurizing telcos to get each and every SIM re-verified through BVS in a matter of 28 days then that gentleman should be taken out of Interior Ministry and should be sent straight to a hospital for mental checkup.
The story doesn’t end here.
The real concern of telecom operators is that they need a guarantee from government that this total re-verification exercise will be the last one in their business cycles. They don’t want to repeat what has happened before with 668, 789 and other similar plans that government made for the verification of SIMs.
For those who don’t know, telecom operators invested Rs. 24 billion (yup, that’s in billions) with-in last year to get their service centres, franchises and retailers equipped with Biometric Verification System devices.
If you want some more details then each such BVS device costs USD 350 and telcos had to spend Rs. 24 billion on these devices to get BVS solution functional at all franchises, service centres and retail outlets.
After this investment, re-verification process will cost as well. For example there is labour cost, maintenance, utility and similar expenses that are associated with such pile of work. On top of it, telcos have to pay Rs. 23 to NADRA for each biometric verification.
As mentioned above, retailers won’t re-verify customers for free, hence at least Rs. 15 per re-verification should be allotted to retailers to lure them to work on re-verification of customers.
In-short, other than operational cost, at least Rs. 40 per customer (or Rs. 5 billion in total) is what telcos will have to bear for re-verification of their entire customer-base.
This can’t be done with a chance that telcos will be asked again after few months for deployment of a new system for verification of SIMs.
Role of PTA and IT Ministry
These are serious issues and there must be through deliberation done before reaching conclusions. We are dealing with foreign investors who have invested billions in our country, we just can’t put them under the control of people with no technological background.
Pakistan Telecommunication Authority, which is reportedly mum on the matter, should play its role. PTA is probably the only government body that understand technical issues and they must come between Interior Ministry and Telecom industry to bridge both sides.
Anusha Rehman has a responsibility here too. She should help her peers to understand technical and theoretical limitations and let them know that re-verification of SIMs in 28 days is neither possible, nor it will help stop terrorism.
Yes, she can tell Interior Ministry that cellular firms are ready to re-verify SIMs and they must be given realistic deadlines.