A warning from one of the telecom firms regarding the ongoing Sim card registration early this week goes like this:
"This sim card will not be able to make and receive calls after 24 hours if you do not register now. Go to the nearest (telecom) outlet and register."
Although the message was an error and was immediately corrected because there is still a month to the deadline, it captured the urgency of the exercise and why the yet to register subscribers need to embrace the exercise.
This is just one of the many adverts currently on the airways and in the media being pushed by telecoms as the impending March 1 deadline approaches.
SIM is an abbreviation for Subscriber Identity Module. A SIM card is a valuable memory card which stores all the information on your phone, such as pictures, videos, music and contact numbers.
"We are almost at 50% (registration). We have tents all over the city and we have also given people the ability to verify whether they have registered or not," said Fiona Wall, the Airtel Uganda publicist. Airtel has over 4.3 million subscribers.
Mid this week, MTN Uganda chief executive officer Mazen Mroue told New Vision that by the end of December, the telecom had a total of five million Sim cards registered out of the total 7.5 million or 66% of revenue generating customers. Mazen said MTN has deployed two main methods of registration- digital and manual, with the key spots being the MTN service centres spread all over the country and dealers shops.
"The registration points have been increased over time and as of last month, the number of unique agents contracted by MTN has exceeded 8,000," said Mazen.
Though the exercise has roped in a considerable chunk of mobile phone subscribers, it has not gone on without some glitches. The executive director of Uganda Communications Commission (UCC), Godfrey Mutabazi, had earlier sounded frustrated with the process.
"I am not satisfied with the process because it is a nightmare. There is no national identity card," said Mutabazi.
He said the regulator and telecoms are set to hold a meeting this week to step up efforts, but warned that mobile phone owners have to register and had warned last year that the process shall not be extended beyond the March 2013 deadline.
"They will be disconnected. Why don't they register," asked Mutabazi.
Mazen also pointed out the low public awareness about the SIM card registration, especially in rural areas, and the lack of proper identification and the absent national identification system are loopholes hindering a large number of subscribers from registering.
UCC says the fact that people have all sorts of identification documents means telecom operators have to go through the extra mile of verifying the authenticity of the documentation.
SIM card registration in Uganda is part of the regional exercise. Under the umbrella body called the East Africa Communications Organisation (EACO), the East Africa region set mid 2012 as the deadline to have all existing SIM cards registered.
The sim card registration process is a global process and has already been done successfully in Mauritius, Ghana and South Africa where you cannot buy a sim card without registering.
It is intended to abet cyber-crime, which Mutabaazi says is on the rise. Overall, therefore, SIM card registration is part of the Government's efforts to enhance security of lives and property of Ugandans.
It also helps to curb fraud when the identity of the user for every transaction can be confirmed. This is especially important in a country like Uganda where hundreds of billions of shillings are today moved across the different mobile commerce platforms of mobile money (MTN), M-sente (UTL), Airtel money (Airtel) and Warid pesa (Warid).