16 September 2017

Ethiopia: Ethio Telecom Gears Up Monopoly

Photo: The Observer
(File photo).

The monopoly telecom operator, Ethio telecom, will begin registering new mobile phones into the system starting from tomorrow in a bid to prevent smuggled phones in the local market and prevent a telecom fraud committed by breaching the company's satellite network.

Ethio telecom announced the registration in a press conference at Hilton Hotel last Thursday, September 14, 2017.

Ethio telecom, the state monopoly telecom provider, is going to make 2.7 million mobile phone apparatuses out of operation within a year. This marks the commencement of the national Equipment Identity Registration System (EIRS) jointly undertaken by Ethio telecom and the Ministry of Communication & Information Technology (MCIT).

EIRS aims at modernising the country's telecom service and is recognised by Global System Mobile Association (GSMA) while maintaining users' advantages in terms of better service, enhanced security and national revenues.

It will also block illegally imported gadgets, that are capable of bypassing the service provider's satellite network and enabling them to make international calls.

The system is designed to take out invalid mobile phones that are cloned or are of substandard production, according to Abdurahim Ahmed, a corporate communications director at Ethio telecom.

"The existence of such products deters the quality of the telecom service and poses a threat to the users' well-being," said Abdurahim, while briefing the issue to the press at Hilton Hotel last Thursday.

To this end, mobile apparatuses are automatically registered with their specific identification number known as IMEI, which binds a particular SIM card to a particular device.

The system will also prevent mobile phone theft, health hazards caused by substandard devices and the revenues the government loses from illegally imported apparatuses.

All the active mobile apparatuses are automatically registered whereas unused devices will be registered after inserting Ethio telecom's SIM card by September 18, 2017.

Users can dial *#06# to identify their phone's IMEI number and dial *868# to have a look at & use the available registration alternatives, according to Ethio telecom.

The new system will bond the mobile apparatus with the SIM card of the particular user using IMEI, which is a unique number given automatically to identify GSM, WCDMA, and iDEN mobile phones, as well as some satellite phones. IMEI is only used for recognising the device and has no permanent or semi-permanent relation to the subscriber. The number is used by the GSM network to know valid devices.

EIRS prevents phone theft as it blacklists a reported stolen phone, making it out of operation in the service provider's network territory by recognising the IMEI number.

"Since our phones are tightly interwoven with our daily lives in many aspects, the recurrent phone theft is a significant issue troubling users," explained Ayalneh Lemma, head of legal services at MCIT. "Thus, we believe, the system will eradicate the threat rendering stolen phones useless on the network."

Moreover, the registration enables 14 legal phone assemblers, and importers in the country to regain a fair business competition ground, which has previously been manoeuvred by contraband phone traders, according to MCIT.

The use of IMEI will enable mobile phones in Ethiopia to be recognised in GSMA's database. Hence, being registered in GSMA's database is the major criteria for having a valid device.

"Our registration system is intended to take out substandard and cloned apparatuses that cost users due to below standard device speed, battery life and network signal quality," said Balcha Reba, director of Standardization & Regulatory Directorate at MCIT. "These counterfeited devices don't have a valid IMEI number, making it easy to revoke their registration system."

Shimeles Tessema, a Computer Science instructor and software Developer, agrees with the registration's advantage, though in a different way.

"The IMEI registration is more relevant in enforcing standard mobile apparatuses than preventing theft," he elaborates. "The low-cost substandard mobile devices often use cheap and lower specification elements such as modems, battery and processor, which consequently hang up the quality of the telecom service we ought to get."

The registration, thus, would instruct and encourage users to go for standard apparatuses, which in turn lets them have better service.

"Given there is only one telecom operator in our country, we can't choose between the best service," Shimeles said. "Our only resort remains to be conserving the service Ethio telecom delivers to us at its best."

Responding to the argument whether device registration, which entails to making some phones invalid, is a priority than improving other telecom services, Abdurahman claims that both are parallel priorities.

"We can boldly say that we have been successful in telecom infrastructure development," he said. "We were privileged to be named the second largest telecom infrastructure in Africa."

Ethiopia is a country on the 107th rank of Internet penetration. However, there is a dramatic shift in the development of telecom services. Starting telecom service in 1999, Ethiopia currently has over 50 million subscriptions, of which 16 million use Internet services, representing for 15.4pc of the total population. About 17 years ago, the number of people who used Internet was only 10,000 in the country.

Ethiopia

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