Kampala — Mobile phone dealers in Uganda will lose millions should the Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) sanctions on all counterfeit mobile handsets be effected come July 1 this year.
Uganda's telecom sector regulator in August last year gave a directive to traders and public to get rid of substandard phones or risk being switched off the network by the operators.
Five months down the road some importers who had massively stalked these phones in their shops are stuck with these handsets while others have closed shop after members of the public shunned the inferior gadgets.
Communications Commission of Kenya at end of September last year switched off close to two million counterfeit phones a move Uganda, Rwanda and Tanzania are also undertaking.
A counterfeit phone is one whose International Mobile Equivalent Identity (IMEI) ( serial number on the inside of the device's battery compartment) cannot be recognized on data bases of genuine mobile phone manufacturers.
The global database has registered the International Mobile Equipment Identity (IMEI) numbers of all GSM handsets manufactured. Counterfeit handsets carry IMEI numbers duplicated from original ones.
To show how serious they were, UCC had proposed an ambitious date of January 31 (last Thursday) as the ultimate date to deny service to new counterfeit phones that previously had not subscribed to any network.
The decision was later reconsidered and a new time frame is going to be set according to Fred Otunnu the head of communication at UCC.
Traders now have until the end of July to clear out their stalk. An estimated number of one in every five people carries China made counterfeit phone.
Mazinga Ssebaduka a dealer on Kizito Towers, a city mall in Kampala, asked government and UCC to curb the importation of such phones before switching off those already in the country.
"This is not fair, is it the only alternative, to bring us loss. We have made hefty investment, we pay taxes and rent, and if they take us out of business what shall we do. We know this government cannot compensate us," Ssebaduka said.
Other traders who spoke to East African Business Week revealed that customers are not buying phones from China for fear of losing their money when UCC implements their directive. A female dealer noted that it has been hard for her to trade as people now prefer original phones from Europe yet her stalk is from china. "The customers are not buying actually am looking at doing some other business my prayers is that this stalk is sold. She said adding that her colleagues already dumped the business.
However, Abdul Mbabazi, the Business Development Manager of Green Power Solutions faults UCC for insufficiently communicating to the public about which phones are going to be affected.
He is a dealer of Techno and itel original brand phones made in China. He urges that the regulator has not told people how to differentiate a fake phone from an original one.
"The communication was not accurate, they didn't elaborate they just told people that they are going to switch off phones from china without telling people which phone because not all phones from china are counterfeits. It hurts the businesses of those who import genuine china phones," Mbabazi noted.
October to January is our peak period but this is not the case. People are afraid to buy our phones thinking they are going to be disconnected." Mbabazi observed.
Ssebaduka and other dealers say that they don't know how to tell that a phone is a fake, except for the one with brand names similar to the famous mobile phone brands. Ssebaduka who has a heap of China phones of brand names unfamiliar to us disclosed that as a trader he was avoiding phones with masquerading brand names.
"They told us that only phones that have names that look like the famous European brands like Nokia and Samsung." Ssebaduka said displaying a glittering China phone with a brand name- Terango.
When asked how many people are likely to be affected when the ban comes into effect, Otunnu was not sure of the numbers.
The regulators mouthpiece however said they are going to hold a public dialogue to discuss issues concerning counterfeit phones and simcard registration.