Launch of Sim Card Registration by Uganda Communications Commission – March 5, 2012

It is a Monday morning, and 7:00am as requested I am at the Sheraton Kampala for the launch of Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) official launch of the sim card registration which requires all mobile phone users to register their sim cards with the Telcos. The telecoms are setting up registration tents outside so I think I will register my 4 (yes four) sim cards today and get it over and done with.

I already have my finger prints and photos taken for my drivers license, have my details also taken by two telecoms (MTN and UTL) for their mobile money services. Not forgetting I have to register with the other two telecoms for their mobile money services too :-)

Today is the stakeholder launch and the public launch will be on March 24, 2012 at Nakivubo stadium. In attendance are the top guns of the telecoms, Security Minister and Inspector General of Police, Executive Director NITAU, members of parliament so it seems like the project has political buy-in. The social and technical challenges well are still yonder.

The driving factor for the sim registration is to curb the wave of crime perpetuated by explosion of mobile usage in Africa over the last decade based on the numbers from the ITU. This explains why the advertising theme for the sim card registration is “Make Communications Safe” and the messages are: no more hiding by bullies and conmen/conwomen, sim people have bad intentions. However this begs the question “Are there no positive messages to show how beneficial it is to register the sim cards?”

Critical issues that I am looking to see mentioned better still addressed:

1. Is the information to be synchronized across the different telecoms? – Answer: Each telco is charged with registering the subscribers within their network and securely storing the information within their system. This raises a question of interoperability between the information stored by the different operators on their systems.

2. Is the sim card registration also to be synced with mobile money registration too, or are they to be kept separate?

3. How are privacy implications to be addressed? Answer – This is the responsibility of the different telecoms overseen by UCC. The government is reassuring the public that the telecom providers will protect this information. With no details this is out in the wild.

4. How is this process to be scaled to the 40% sim card users in the rural populations who actually do not have any form of registration?

5. How will corporate registrations of sim cards to be handled?

6. How will this link up with all the other registration systems, National ID, Drivers license, Credit Reference Bureau, and any new ones that will be thought up too …?

7. How will verification of the registration information be done, do we assume that all who register are using their real names and information? Answer – the government will no tolerate any such activities

8. Who owns the registration information – the telecoms, UCC, Government of Uganda, the registrants? Answer – The information seems to be owned by the telecoms who capture the subscriber information.

I have registered my 4 sim cards on all services and here is my take on the operational challenges so far:

1. This is a chance for the service providers to sell their mobile money services, since the sim card registration is invariably mobile money registration too. This puts pressure on the incumbent MTN Uganda which has the largest foot print

2. The telcoms are ill prepared for the logistical nightmare that the sim card registration calls for, and will put pressure on their earnings for the next 2 years. We were only about 100 people at the stakeholder launch, but it took almost 20min at each providers stall. Mulitply this 10,000 fold and you get the picture with only 10% of estimated subscribers covered. Lessons from credit reference bureau service roll-out planning should have been used as it was done to over 500,000 bank account holders and was tied to regulatory compliance by financial institutions.

3. The duplication of efforts is daunting. My opinion is that UCC should have forced the telcoms to come together and carry out this registration as a block for it to be successful.

4. Information privacy is still a major issue which has not been addressed, we are being told to trust the telecoms.

5. There is no verification of information, and it is easy to get and use forged credentials for sim card registration which becomes official. This could have been simplified if the registration has been done by a block of telecoms.

On a parting note, as I always have them Isiah Katumwa’s saxophone playing is off the hook, what talent…

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9 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Okuti Richard on March 5, 2012 at 11:39 am

    Gr8t Piece, these are indeed critical questions that need to be addressed

    Reply

  2. Good notes, Stephen!
    And Isaiah’s performance was certainly the icing on the cake for a dull Monday morning.
    I would certainly have preferred for the networks to be asked to do this as one block rather than have to go step by step to each and every one of them – and today’s opportunity to register all one’s SIMs at one point should be taken up by anybody who knows they are all there together.
    But that would have been the same as – which would make more sense, actually – UCC itself doing the registration.
    No guesses as to what the strategy was there, I should think.
    Also, I’m sure MTN will be forced to throw a bigger budget at this than Orange would – for the obvious reasons.
    I’m done with one number, so we’ll see about the rest in a week at a different point so I test the system thoroughly.

    Reply

    • I have always wondered why the telcoms do not get together to do things like lay fibre optic cables, in coopetition which is for mutual gain like Marconi in the UK, and those with more muscle would get a bigger share of the pie. But maybe its competitive economics

      And yes MTN has to throw a bigger budget at this, but they also have to innovate along the way coz this registration is making it easier for their competitors to push services to subscribers.

      We now live in interesting times

      Reply

  3. Posted by David Mugabe on March 5, 2012 at 1:12 pm

    Some of the issues like confidentiality and safety of data, we are only getting verbal assurances from the minister of the law and punitive measures. Lets wait and see…

    I guess a proper sensitisation effort is needed b’se it is a win-win or people will have their sims switched off…

    Reply

    • David,

      Yes, I agree. Verbal assurances are not enough without clear regulator guidelines to the public on how the telecoms will store and use the data.

      The interesting observation I have also made is that the sim card registration is actually a signup for the telecom services, so does UCC then have control over that information.

      Stephen

      Reply

  4. Posted by Donna on March 5, 2012 at 1:49 pm

    Hi Stephen, how do you compare your registration experience across the different networks? Which one was more convenient?

    Reply

    • 1. Please note that my impressions are based on what the networks had at the site, and my registration for 4 sim cards:

      a) UTL was somewhat disorganized had only 2 people working at the tent so it was slow

      b) Airtel was well organized took the photocopy of my ID quickly plus the photo

      c) MTN was also well organized, once I filled the form, photos were taken of the form, ID and my front

      d) Warid had the staff, but I had to leave my photo since their photo setup was not yet working.

      2. I am still worried about the logistics to get the registration up and working for the providers based on what I saw today. These were stakeholders, tech savvy and educated, I would love to cover the official launch in Nakivubo to see if I am wrong

      Reply

  5. Hi Stephen. Im a producer for BBC World Service’s Focus on Africa. We’d like to interview you with regards to this topic and your blog piece. Could you please email me lebo.diseko@bbc.co.uk . I’ve also tweeted you about it so you can dm me @lebo_diseko
    Cheers

    Reply

  6. [...] Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) launched a simcard registration exercise see my coverage at http://wp.me/pXn3W-4H. On February 28, 2013, all un-registered simcards will be switched off by the telecom providers so [...]

    Reply

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