Traders in Kenya dealing with supposed counterfeit mobile phones are facing an uncertain future as the government readies to switch off all unlicensed handsets at the end of this month.
The traders are bracing for tough times in the coming months as they hold on to their stock, which mainly comprises low-cost mobile phones. Many of them are already counting losses as people shun buying mobile phones from them for fear that they will not use them once the switch-off is implemented.
The Communication Commission of Kenya (CCK), which is currently running a public awareness campaign on the exercise, announced that it will cut off the cell phones from the four service providers on September 30.
The regulator noted counterfeit handsets are hazardous and pose risks to Kenyans. The risks include emission of radiation that could affect health of users since the manufacturers of the mobile phones allegedly do not follow safety standard while making them. CCK further argued the mobile phones affect network operations since they do not connect effortlessly.
"Counterfeit phones are unable to connect seamlessly with network providers, leading to network congestion and dropped calls," noted the regulator, which blames the gadgets for rise in mobile phone fraud and other crimes in the east African nation.
Kenya's Anti-Counterfeit Authority estimated the country loses $38.5 million annually through tax evasion on sale of fake handsets. The cut-off is expected to affect more than three million subscribers in Kenya's rapid growing mobile phone industry.
And as some mobile phone users buy licensed handsets and others wait to see what will happen after the expiry of the notice, sellers of fake cell phones are pondering their next move."We do not know what we will exactly do with our stock since it is obvious that we cannot sell them in Kenya," Gabriel Ngeru, who runs a mobile phone shop in River Road, a popular backstreet in Nairobi's central business district, said on Monday.
For about two years, Ngeru has done brisk business as he sells the gadgets, especially to low-income earners. The dealer specializes in the low-cost handsets, which have several features that include radio, camera, Bluetooth and Internet connection.
Ngeru sells the mobile phones at between $17 dollars and $120. "Most people liked the multi-faceted phones because they were affordable. For about $40, one could get a handset similar to the one going at over $200 in high-end shops," said Ngeru.
The trader, as many others in the business district, opposes the move to switch off supposed counterfeit phones, arguing that some of them are genuine. "The mobile phones will be switched mainly because they do not have International Mobile Equipment Identity (IMEI) number, but this does not mean they are counterfeit," he said.
The IMEI number is a unique code used to identify original Global System for mobile gadgets. Mobile phone network operators, among other things, use the number to track stolen mobile handsets.
Ngeru said some of the phones that they sell will be switched off because they are manufactured by small companies, which have not applied for IMEI number registration.
"Most of us do not sell imitations of Nokia or Samsung. They are low-cost mobile phones from small companies that do not apply for IMEI range from European GSM Association because it is not compulsory. This is one of the things that make the phones cheaper," he said.