THE Pakistan Telecommunication Authority has announced that the long-anticipated Device Identification, Registration and Blocking System will become functional on Oct 20, after which any mobile devices that are not registered on it will become unusable. DIRBS is aimed primarily at combating the influx of smuggled or counterfeit mobile sets that make their way into the country. These counterfeit devices adversely affect the government, mobile phone operators, distributors and consumers, according to the PTA. While this is certainly a welcome step, perhaps its rollout should have been managed better. The public awareness drive accompanying the rollout of DIRBS has suffered from some sort of communication failure. With Oct 20 announced as some kind of ominous deadline for when mobile devices might suddenly stop working, the result has been widespread concern and confusion.
In fact, most users need not be concerned. Any devices that are being used on a daily basis are very likely to have already been registered. Merely making a phone call or sending a message from a device is enough to get it on the DIRB database. PTA has said it has already ‘legalised’ (added to its database) nearly 160m mobile devices, active on all local mobile phone networks. None of these devices will face any service interruption after Oct 20. What users should be cognisant of, however, is that they ought to verify any new device they buy after October by texting its IMEI number (usually printed on the box) to 8484. Only devices certified ‘compliant’ should be bought. If a handset is being brought into the country from abroad, it has to be registered with the PTA if it is to be used with a local SIM. The PTA also needs to do more to alleviate the concerns of mobile phone sellers who may be sitting on unsold inventory. How does the legal status of their stock in hand change after Oct 20? Perhaps it would be a good idea if the PTA revisited its approach to educating the public about this important new system. It is also worth noting that the system, if implemented vigorously and maintained diligently, can greatly help curtail the menace of mobile phone snatching. If permanently disabling a device is as easy as flipping a switch for the PTA, a vast black market that thrives on the resale of stolen mobile phones can be shut down permanently. Is the PTA taking any steps in this regard?
Published in Dawn, October 14th, 2018