By Macharia Kamau
In three months, close to three million mobile subscribers with counterfeit handsets could be plugged off unless they acquire genuine handsets.
The switch off will be a costly affair for consumers who will have to acquire new handsets, a significant number of whom are said to have bought the fake phones without knowledge. Other than the consumers, mobile phone operators could also lose revenues especially in the short term, if their subscribers are plugged off.
There are an estimated 2.4 million subscribers using counterfeit phones and with the average revenue per user standing at Sh456 per month. This means that the telcos stand to lose up to Sh1 billion every month. This is a likely scenario as users acquire alternative handsets in the months following the September 30 the switch off date.
Sh1 billion is a substantial amount given the reduced earnings from the voice market in the recent past and the extent to which operators are going to reduce operating costs.
Counterfeit handsets are believed to be used by criminals to perpetuate heinous crimes like kidnap and even hate speech because they are hard to trace.
The Communications Commission of Kenya acknowledged there will be costs to all industry stakeholders but noted that consumers being disconnected and telcos losing marginal revenues was an insignificant price to pay for the benefits that would accruing from the exercise.
“There will be a cost to the network operators, equipment manufacturers and consumers – the latter will have to replace their handsets within three months,” said Francis Wangusi acting director-general CCK.
“But what we get in return from undertaking this exercise, the cost might be an insignificant factor. This will also be only a short term cost as consumers will eventually acquire genuine phones.”
“Counterfeits are a menace and they are a threat to our networks that we use not only for voice and data but also undertake sensitive transactions like money transfer and that is why we need to secure them.” Safaricom Chief Executive Officer Bob Collymore however said the industry would not suffer major revenue loss, and if anything, operators would make savings by getting counterfeits off their networks. He explained that users of fake phones encounter myriad problems and end up clogging data centres as they seek help from customer care officials. “It is a good thing that we are switching them off and this will not eat into our revenues. What will happen is that we will take off a lot of costs off our business.
“A large number of calls going into our call centres are from users of counterfeits. The phones do not store data settings and in turn the users have to call customer care lines to get the settings every now and then. The customer care officials are slowed down because they cannot tell what phones these are and take longer to serve one customer clogging up networks,” Collymore told Tech.Insight.
“People will not make fewer calls, they will continue to make calls and text messages but using phones that are on safer standards.”
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