Potraz cuts off unregistered users

Zimbabwe’s three mobile phone companies at midnight on Tuesday night began disconnecting tens of thousands of customers who failed to register their sim cards by Monday’s deadline.

Industry regulator, Postal and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe (Potraz), announced this new requirement in June last year.

The directive to register all mobile phones was issued by Potraz last year with an initial registration deadline of August 31, 2010.

Many mobile subscribers did not meet the deadline forcing the regulator to extend it to February 28, 2011.

As of August last year only 3,8 million subscribers had registered their sim cards out of the estimated number of 6,5 million mobile phone users in the country.

However, no figures were immediately available of how many more subscribers had registered by Monday night.

Potraz director-general Engineer Charles Sibanda on Tuesday confirmed the disconnection of unregistered users.

“The companies are compiling data as to who had registered by 28 February,” said Sibanda. “There are a number of people that made last-minute efforts to register and we do not want to inconvenience them.

“However, those that had not registered by the deadline will be disconnected.”

According to Potraz, the registration of mobile phone users is being done in almost every country.

The regulator says registration will help in the fight against crime.

According to international research firm IHS Global Insight, requiring mobile phone users to register their details has the potential to stall growth in the telecommunications sector.

The international economic forecast think-tank warned that the regulatory requirement might jeopardise the goal of access to mobile phone service for all.

“The introduction of mandatory registration of sim cards in at least 10 countries has resulted in a dramatic slowdown in subscriber growth and will see the disconnection of millions of unregistered subscribers,” IHS Global Insight said in a recent report.

The requirement has already negatively impacted South Africa, which has led implementation of the policy and gave customers until end of 2010 to register, as MTN and Vodacom recorded drops in users by 6,4 and 5% respectively.

A drop in subscriber base is anticipated in nine African nations including Kenya, Cameroon, Ivory Coast and Ghana.

A similar move by Algeria in 2008 hit subscriber numbers.

The second biggest operator Mobilis had nearly two million sim cards de-activated resulting in revenues plummeting.

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