21 December 2012

Rwanda: SIM Cards to Be Registered Next Year

Photo: William Oeri
A mobile phone user inserts a SIM card into a phone.

Rwanda Utilities Regulatory Agency (RURA), together with all mobile operators and the Rwanda National ID Project (NID), has on this Friday briefed the media about the SIM Card Registration (SCR), a process that will see every SIM card registered not later than July 31, 2013.

The SCR is scheduled to be officially launched on February 4, 2013, in a process that will involve existing and new customers. During that 6-month period, all mobile subscribers are requested to register their SIM cards to their respective mobile service providers.

"Apart from different benefits that comes with this move, registering SIM cards is the only way we will know the real exact number of mobile subscribers in Rwanda," said François-Régis Gatarayiha, RURA's Director General.

RURA announced that those who will not have their SIM cards registered by the end of July 31, 2013 will face disconnection of service, which will be restored only after their SIM cards are put on file. The whole process will be free of charge.

As Jean-Baptiste Mutabazi, RURA's head of communication and media explained, once you buy a new SIM card, you will have to go to your mobile operator's registration agency with your original ID (or an official travel document for foreigners). They will send some of your personal details to the NID database to verify their validity, and if this is positive the SIM card will be activated.

"We've done a lot of preparations to have the process successful," says Norman Munyampundu, MTN Rwanda's Senior Customer Operations Manager. "The process will be really very simple. Registering the subscriber will not take more than 3 minutes. We are facilitating our customers, even pressing registration points at the cell level so that our customers can easily have access to those registration centers."

Currently, 98% of mobile subscribers in Rwanda are using pre-paid system, meaning that the operator can't identify the SIM card owner - which isn't the case for post-paid customers. The lack of these records has led to complications for law enforcement agencies in case of payment fraud, theft or crime involving mobile phone.

"For example, someone could kidnap your child, buy a SIM card on the streets because it's not registered, and start ordering you to deposit money in a certain place," Gatarayiha explained.

But for the users too, there will be benefits. For one, SIM swap will become easier: if a mobile subscriber damages or loses his SIM card, it can be swiftly replaced without having to remember any recent numbers as is currently the case.

Secondly, if you lose your phone or have it stolen, you have a better chance of getting it back because your contact details can be found on a database of your operator. Last but not least, currently, mobile money transfer charges for unregistered users are higher than charges for registered ones.

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