LAHORE: A huge number of pre-paid mobile phone users may lose their connections since telecom operators have expressed their ‘inability’ to re-verify the subscribers within a 28-day deadline set by the government.

A source in the industry told Dawn that the telecom operators had sought another 150-200 days for completion of the re-verification process . Otherwise, they say, they will have to block the pre-paid SIMs (subscriber identification modules) to meet the deadline.

According to a source in the industry, there are about 140 million Sims in the country and only 10 per cent of them are post-paid ones.

Know more: Govt urged to enact laws against use of illegal SIMs

The interior ministry had set the 28-day deadline after the Peshawar school attack during which the terrorists had used ‘biometric verified’ Sims for communication.

The representatives of five operators — Mobilink, Ufone, Telenor, Warid and Zong — will hold a meeting this week with Interior Minister Nisar Ali Khan, Minister of State for IT and Telecommunication Anusha Rehman and Pakistan Telecommunication Authority Chairman Dr Ismail Shah to discuss and a find a solution to the problem.

“The operators will apprise the government of their inability to re-verify over 100 million pre-paid Sims in such a short time. We will seek a realistic period for the purpose,” an official of a leading mobile phone company told Dawn.

He said the general public would be the ultimate sufferer if the Sims were blocked for a month. “The affected persons will rush to customer sale centres, franchises and retailers to get post-paid Sims,” he added.

In order to stop the sale of illegal Sims, the PTA had introduced the biometric verification system about a year ago. Although the cellular companies have installed the system at their customers’ sale centres, franchises and retailers, still there are complaints about the sale of illegal and unauthorised Sims.

But the companies claim that since the introduction of the biometric system, the sale of “illegal and unregistered Sims has not been possible any more”.

Sohaib Sheikh, an expert in the telecom industry, said: “From the security point of view, the pre-biometric era was not different from the post-biometric regime. Earlier, terrorists used un-registered Sims for communicating with each other and now they are using registered Sims.”

He was of the opinion that instead of putting blame on telecom companies after every terror attack or suspending mobile services on certain festivals, the government should sit with the operators and find a permanent solution to such problems.

Mohammad Aslam Hayat, Telenor’s chief corporate affairs officer, said: “There is no such thing as unverified Sim. Every mobile operator has a record of Sim sales from its warehouse up to the retail level, where subscriptions are acquired. Against every Sim sold, mobile operators have necessary data as per the regulatory requirement.

“However, this does not mean that the system is foolproof. There is possibility that at the retail end some of the sellers may violate the standard operating procedures (SOPs) for small gains without the support and knowledge of mobile operators.”

Aslam Hayat said the “dominant buyer of bulk Sims” was a group of people involved in bringing grey international incoming calls.

“These grey traffickers are willing to pay very high prices, (reportedly up to Rs5,000 for one Sim), for these Sims which turns out to be a substantially motivating factor for some in retail channels to ignore the sale procedure laid down by the operators,” he said.

A number of such grey international gateways had been busted by law enforcement agencies and it was revealed that those bulk Sims were bought and top-up was done from selected sources, the Telenor official added.

“The law enforcement agencies have a plethora of cases to support this fact,” he added.

Published in Dawn, December 29th, 2014


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