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Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Operators’ strategies and SIM cards registration


As concern over the need to register individual’s Subscribers Identification Module (SIM) card in the on-going exercise, continues, REMMY NWEKE reports that various telecom operators are diversing separate strategies to ensure its success, including going to big corporate entities and worship centers.

Following the introduction of the registration of Subscribers Identification Module (SIM) cards in the country, subscribers and operators are now keen in making certain that they are part of the exercise.

From the churches, mosques and even markets have now turned to venues for SIM registration across the country.

Apparently, in line with the public notice of the telecommunications regulator, the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), the operators and subscribers alike are now enthusiastic to engage in the act of SIM cards registration.

Part of the notice stipulated that with the commencement of registration of SIM cards, new SIMs must not be activated until the subscriber is duly registered, while those already existing would have a limited period within which to get their SIM cards registered or face some sanctions of being denied access to their lines to a given extent, which may include turning their lines into a receiver only, with the likelihood of reaching a cut-off, if the user is adamant to a certain period.

“All SIM-based telephone subscribers are required to register their personal data as well as biometrics; finger prints and facial photographs, before they can be allowed to make calls and/or send messages,” NCC warned through its Director, Public Affairs, Mr. Dave Imoko, recently.

Investigations carried out by ITRealms Online since the commencement of the exercise on May 1, indicated that telecom operators, mostly those on mobile platforms have introduced various strategies to achieve this, in spite of the six months deadline marshaled out by the House Committee on Communications to complete the registration of over 78 million SIM cards in circulation as at July, 2010.

This means that by end of October 2010, an estimated 78 million should have been registered. This development came as some Information and Communication Technology (ICT) experts argued that it is not visible, maintaining that even if all the operators have to register a total record of 1m per week, it could still not be viable.

Noticeable now is that when a new SIM is inserted into a new mobile phone, a prompt is seen demanding that such a SIM card be registered.

According to the president of the Association of Telecommunications Companies of Nigeria (ATCON), Mr. Titi Omo-Ettu, based on the aforementioned mathematics of registering at least 1m per week, it means that the registration of 78m subscribers will be completed in approximated 19.5 months; equals to about a year and seven months to accomplish.

He urged telecom consumers in the country to ensure they register their SIMs and called on NCC to adhere to the directive given by the House Committee on Communications, that six months is enough for the exercise.

The intervention of the Green chambers of the legislature by way of proposing a parliamentary Bill on SIM registration, he said, is a welcome development, stressing that ATCON, as an interested party made input too. “We have already made contribution to the draft,” he said, but insisted that the campaign for SIM registration was started by ATCON members’ who are already making efforts to ensure its success.

ATCON also wants NCC to engage Nigerians on the public enlightenment campaign, saying that it’s only NCC that could persuade subscribers in the country to adhere to SIM registration which is ongoing.

They noted that the campaign should not be left alone to the telecom operators, because Nigerians would perceive it as another means of ‘milking’ them, moreso, given the rise in kidnapping, which most people said is induced by the advent of the Global System for Mobile communications.

For the chairman, Association of Licensed Telecom Operators of Nigeria (ALTON), Mr. Gbenga Adebayo, the registration of SIM cards of such magnitude entails huge investment, thus the operators are demanding logistic support from the government, especially the industry regulator.

He stressed that even if nothing else, the exercise is of utmost important to aid security agencies in curbing crimes in the country.

Although the NCC said it was considering some of kind of support, it has mandate the operators to set up machineries in place to accomplish this exercise, without outlining the kind of support it would offer them in return yet.

But, based on the workings of the government and its agencies, the cost of engaging some staff for this purpose and procurement of equipment could be absorbed eventually, but for when remain unknown, especially with the slowness in engaging stakeholders by the latest leadership of apex telecom regulator in the country is unassuming.

ITRealms Online discovered that the operators are now engaging dealers in order to extend the exercise to the crannies by taking actions to big corporate organisations and churches with good number of staff and members, especially those who may not have the opportunity to visit customer care centres for the exercise, with some centres located at popular bus-stops like Oshodi-underbridge in Lagos.

Operators, it was revealed have appointed series of partners to drive this exercise down to subscribers and near too. This the dealer do by engaging temporary staff to ensure that this exercise is a success.

For instance, at St. Jude’s Catholic parish, Mafoluku-Oshodi in Lagos, recently, staff of telco’s dealers, especially from Apple Tree mounted two tables at the two entrance gates of the church during most masses in order to register MTN subscribers who lined up for the exercise en-masse. Though they claim to have the mandate of other operators as well, but of particular reference were made for MTN customers, even as they used MTN’s branded tables and plastic chairs, for about two Sun days, the team visited the church.

The two operators of the Digital Data Capturing machines allocated to the parish for the Sunday-Sunday registration options who identified themselves as Messrs Kayode and Yomi, confirmed that they were from Apple Tree Nigeria Limited and have been around since the second mass which ended at about 8.30am and would usually stay through to the last mass, which ended at about 1pm, while the exercise lasted at the church compound.

They also said that the exercise went well as the turn-out have been encouraging, while members of the church trooped to these two centres after each mass session to register their SIMs. Confirming their engagement by some operators, mostly MTN, a lady who described herself as the Managing Director, Apple Tree, who refused her name in prints, said they have staff well equipped to do the registration across networks.

She explained that corporate organisations as well as churches and mosques, since the exercise started invite them to occasionally enable their members to register their SIM cards.

The AppleTree lady also said her company and employees were empowered to register across the networks, namely MTN, Zain, Etisalat, and Glo, to name a few.

ITRealms Online recalls that soon after the commencement of SIM card registration, confusion crept in based on the kind of questions asked by various operators via their dealers are yet to be cohesively structured. Even as it was initially gathered that some touts took advantage of lack of awareness on the SIM registration to charge unassuming telecom subscribers between N50 and N500, collecting two passport photos and filling of manual forms with the intention to register them later.

In particular, the operators were discovered to be missing a key question for tracking individuals as they stopped at asking for local government areas without home towns, or place of birth, just as it was gathered that most communities are very far away from their local government headquarters.

Further investigations revealed that at MTN Friendship centres, there are usually two personnel manning each box and capturing data both manually and electronically via filling of form which contains phone lines from the network, alternative phone line, full names, next of kin and phone line, date of birth, local government area, state of origin, residential address, ID, photo capture and two fingers’ biometric scan from each hand in addition to a free gift for those who complete their registration successfully.

Except for the manual recording, Zain also insisted in showing of SIM cards by customers, while Etisalat accepts registration on proxy by spouse only, even as the number kept rising of subscribers who register their SIMs. At Glo World, it was more of an ‘academic exercise’ with all your fingers scanned, mothers’ maiden name, average income per month, average airtime usage per month, office and residential addresses, religion, preferred language, concluding with webcam photo capture.

Equally, experts have warned telecom consumers over the use of touts for registration, saying that anybody without the registration box is ‘fake’.

While telecom consumers are enjoined to key into the exercise, industry observers urged operators to beef-up their commitment to the consumers by taking the exercise further nearer to them across the networks, which is currently being done by MTN, according to our investigations.

This, the predicted could be of help to the operators because most of their subscribers may not eventually be affected when the deadline is presumably reached, therefore sustaining their investment.

Industry observers equally pointed out that if in the long run subscribers are cut off a network, they could be forced to migrate to another network, at which time they would now be literally forced to register before acquiring the new lines.

And for them, most importantly is that the government through the NCC may decide to share or provide incentives for the operators based on their financial and logistic commitment to the exercise, which may not favour those who are foot-dragging at the movement.

Until then, ask yourself, neighbours and relatives if they have registered their SIMs and encourage them to do so, today, especially those at the rural areas.
So, to be forewarned, is to be forearmed.

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