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Uganda puts in motion plans to block fake phones

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Uganda has moved to switch off counterfeit phones after installing a central equipment identity registry.

The move by Uganda Communication Commission (UCC) follows increased influx of fake mobile handsets into Ugandan market in the past few months.
Ibrahim Bbosa, director of public and corporate affairs at UCC, said the central equipment identity registry is to be linked to in each of the telecoms operator systems.

“As I speak the system is analysing to see how many phones in our market are genuine and those that are counterfeit” he said.

The EastAfrican understands that while the machine will not stop counterfeit phones already in use, it will prevent operation of new fake handsets.

Explaining how the system is to detect fake mobile handsets, UCC said the system will cluster mobile users under the three separate lists—the white list which will have genuine phones, a grey list that will have phones that are either roaming and a black list that won’t allow a counterfeit handset to operate on any network.

All mobile phone devices can be authenticated by a user when one feeds in the imprinted IMEI signature.


Sources privy to the intended switch off said UCC is yet to provide telecom players with a short code to which users will be able to send any IMEI serial number to verify whether their devices are original or counterfeit because the technology to be used is still under test.

The Ugandan telecom market is dominated by South Africa’s giant MTN, India’s Bharti Airtel, Africell and Uganda Telecom that share the 23 million subscribers

With MTN having the biggest share of 11 million subscribers, Airtel 7.5 million subscribers, Uganda telecom two million subscribers, Africell one million subscribers and 1.5 million subscribers that are shared among telecom companies that switched from voice services to data.

A report by the National Information Technology Authority (NITA) 2018, dubbed The National IT Survey 2017/2018 showed that almost 24.8 million of Ugandans own mobile phones.

Though the clamp-down is expected to see many phones merchants out of business, the planned switch off won’t take effect until sensitisation of the exercise is done by the commission. The commission had set 2024 as the deadline for use of counterfeit phones in the country.

In a recent communication from parliament to the commission for the month of October, the commission was asked not to switch off fake mobile handsets already in use rather work with Uganda Revenue Authority and Uganda National Bureau of Standards not to allow more imports of sub-standard mobile phones

“You need to do sensitisation about the planned switch both to traders and users to avoid more loses “read the communication.

In the region only Kenya and Tanzania have switched off fake mobile handsets. In 2016, Tanzania switched off about 630,000 mobile phones, joining South Africa and Nigeria in efforts to boost security and take health measures.

In Kenya, the Communications Authority in 2012 switched off 1.4 million handsets. Telecommunication company Safaricom blacklisted and blocked 680,000 phones from its network, Telkom orange locked out 75,000 phones while Airtel blocked 740,000 phones.

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