CA seeks system to weed out fake mobile phones

The Communications Authority of Kenya (CA) has started the process of switching off fake mobile phones by inviting suppliers of automated systems that can authenticate serial numbers of handsets.

A lack of equipment to identify fake mobile phones forced the CA to put on hold plans to switch off the devices whose number is estimated at more than 3.5 million.

Upon production, all genuine mobile phones are assigned a unique 15 digit International Mobile Equipment Identifier (IMEI)ode which can be used to tell them apart from fakes.

All mobile phone vendors in Kenya are expected to register their handset models with the regulator but only the big retailers comply, with counterfeit dealers continuing to thrive.

CA director-general Francis Wangusi said the system would enable the public to directly query IMEI details via SMS and any other medium, and also help in fighting counterfeit handsets.

“The initial objective of this is to block counterfeit phones which not only denies the government revenue by evading taxes but also pose health risk to consumers,” Mr Wangusi told the Business Daily in a phone interview.

He added that the fake phones had not been approved by the regulator, which was not therefore in a position to determine the kind of materials used in their manufacture.

The Anti-Counterfeit Authority says the country loses nearly S.2 billion annually through tax evasion and sale of fake phones, which has become a money-minting venture in Nairobi and other major urban centres.

Attempts to curb the flow of the fakes through improved policing of the ports of entry and installation of a laboratory to vet imported ICT goods has failed to cut key supply lines in the bottom-end market.

READ: Thousands blocked in fake mobile phones switch off

The handsets’ lower pricing — about a third of the cost of genuine handsets — has made them popular among consumers with low purchasing power.

The regulator is now turning to the automated system that it says will be able to analyse the equipment registries of Kenya’s public ICT network operators to accurately aggregate IMEIs into various categories.

For example, the system will identify IMEIs that are invalid, duplicated or cloned, or counterfeit.

Weeding out the counterfeits is set to benefit major phone manufacturers such as Microsoft, Samsung, Apple, Huawei and HTC that claim that fakes account for between 30 per cent and 40 per cent of Kenya’s mobile sales.

It also sets the stage for massive job losses in a market dominated by fake handsets whose value runs into billions of shillings annually.

Commercial lawyers have previously questioned the legality of the intention by the CA to disconnect fake phones.