By Moses Ssemakula & Edrinnah Ddumba
If you are a proud owner of a fake phone, your days are numbered. According to the UgandaCommunications Commission (UCC), in pursuit of the Telecommunications and Radio Communications Equipment regulations, 2005, all fake phones will be de-linked from the country’s existing mobile network soon.
Currently, Uganda has the highest rate of substandard mobile phone devices in East Africa, a situation that has been attributed to the delay by legislators to enact the anti-counterfeit law. It is said that 30 per cent of all Nokia mobile phones sold in the market are counterfeits; compared to 10 per cent in Kenya.
In the neighbouring Kenya, a similar directive takes place starting September 30. Leading phone manufacturers Samsung and Nokia have helped people by accepting the fake phones in exchange for subsidised genuine handsets. Better enough, they helped their citizens by setting up an SMS platform one can use by sending his phone IMEI code for verification.
Uganda is still behind but the threat is a reality according to Godfrey Mutabaazi, the Executive Director of UCC.
“The sudden influx of fake telecommunications devices in Uganda is a serious concern. These phones are low in quality and do not meet safety standards, and in some situation, the radiation from them is beyond the permissible limits and can cause serious damage to the health of Ugandans,” he said.
Mutabazi advised Ugandan consumers to be cautious when buying a new mobile. “Do not be fooled by the retailer or the seller by a useless fake phone. Check the spelling of the brand name. The name is deliberately misspelled in the fake phones using the same font but a wrong spelling. ‘Nokia’ may be written as ‘Nckia’- where ‘o’ and ‘c’ look very similar,” he said, adding, “Most of these phones do not support English language. These fake phones of the same make and model come in different sizes and shapes. Prices are very low. The prices are unbelievingly low.”
There has been an increase in the number of Ugandans with phones accumulating to 17 million. By end of last year, it was reported that the number of subscribers was at 11 million though the number has since increased to 17 million subscribers.
Majority of the low and middle income earners in Uganda at least own a Chinese manufactured mobile phone for example, ZTE, Techno, among others which are commonly dual, triple and quadruple Simcard enabled.
It is estimated that counterfeit phones account for 10-30% of total handsets sold in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). The most affected brands are Nokia, Samsung, Huawei, and RIM (the maker of the BlackBerry) who are seen as the pressure behind this planned clampdown. It is estimated that the East African Community loses around US$200mn every year from unpaid taxes on mobile phones. Fake devices have reportedly a much shorter lifespan than authentic ones, and thus need to be disposed more frequently.
WILL THE CRACKDOWN WORK?
Business Sense reckons there will not be significant crackdown because most countries don’t have a clear plan of how to dispose of the fake devices. Clamour for compensation from consumer groups and low-income users who may have bought the phones innocently could be overwhelming. There is likelihood that disconnected devices in some countries will flood other countries in the region. Countries most at risk include South Sudan, Burundi and DR Congo.
Minister of State for Information Computing and Technology (ICT) Nyombi Thembo told Business Sense that genuine manufacturers especially Samsung, Nokia invest a lot of money to have their products get the best market, but they are finding it hard to operate in markets where some counterfeiters are reproducing their products with poor standards.
When dealers heard about the UCC directive, most of the downtown phone dealers have reduced the prices to avoid making losses. In most shops that Business Sense visited last week indicated a reduction in the prices of all fake phones. A phone that used to be bought at Shs100,000 has been brought down to Shs80,000 because of the fear.
“This causes us to worry because some of us might be getting out of business. This is the only business that we can handle but because of the law we can’t stay with our stock, that’s why we have reduced the prices,” noted a Kalungi Plaza trader who identified as Joseph Muganga.
In a bid to fight counterfeits on the market, Simba Telecom moved fast.
Flora Kaheru, the Chief Operations Officer at Simba Telecom, said the power is with the consumers to have choice and value for their money by purchasing products from genuine dealers.
“Before we sell out any of our products, we first go to the factories to ensure that the products we are bringing on the market are with all the genuine parts. This has enabled us build confidence in our clients because of originality,” explained Kaheru.
On top of this, Kaheru added that Simba Telecom has introduced a quality seal that enables customers differentiate their products from others.
IS YOUR PHONE GENUINE?
Just a hint on how to detect a fake phone: If you are using a Nokia phone, type in *#06# and a serial number should be displayed. If your phone is unable to do this, probably it is fake.
Another way to detect an original Nokia phone is to type in *#0000#. The phone shall display info like language set, product code, model type, latest update etc. If your phone does not display these details then it probably is fake.
Another way to start doubting originality of the phone is when the seller refuses to give you a valid warranty. All genuine phones come with warrant. But some original phones may lack the warranty. But still avoid those because it means they were probably smuggled.
According to research, phones in this category are manufactured by smaller companies that are yet to apply for an IMEI range from the European GSM Associations. These companies have been reluctant seeing no reason after all their phones can still be used all over the world and there is no law requiring phone manufacturers to use GSMA’s IMEI range.
A genuine phone registers both the IMEI code along with caller’s number on mobile company’s systems while fake gadgets record only the caller’s details. This makes it easier to clamp down on counterfeit phones meaning mobile phone users whose phones do not register an authentic IMEI (unique serial number) are surely going to be put off air.