The Uganda Communication Commission-UCC has deferred the switching off of counterfeit phones on the Ugandan market, saying that it is not automatic, and will follow an assessment of the impact after the six months sensitization campaign which started on Tuesday.
The sensitization campaign which will see the communications regulator working with all stakeholders in the communication sector to get rid of counterfeit/illegal cell phones on the Ugandan market, entering its second phase on Tuesday, and this involves consumer awareness as the key strategy.
Rebecca Mukite, the head of public and international relations at UCC while clarifying media reports that the commission is to switch off some 6 million cellphones, said that it is public knowledge that counterfeit cell phones expose their users to dangers and vulnerabilities, and this is what the commission is trying to eliminate, but the switch off is farfetched because they are starting with sensitization.
According to Mukite, UCC’s strategy is benchmarked on what is happening in other countries worldwide and in the East African region. She adds that the very strong social aspects of the campaign are the biggest stumbling block to its success.
“There has been a lot of aggregation of knowledge at the technical level, and the networks are now more intelligent than ever and if it was technology alone the issue would be handled already,” Mukite said.
Mukite says that the very high dependence on mobile phones and other IT gadgets especially after the COVID-19 lockdown, doesn’t give them the liberty to use brute force because of the possible consequences.
She adds that in the campaign, they are focusing on helping all device users to get to know their devices very well. she adds that the illegitimate devices have more than the permissible levels of toxic metal components which can harm the environment when disposed of, as well as cyber vulnerabilities which make them very prone to hacking, and this has affected so many users of such phones through the rampant network loss.
In this phase unlike the first one which dealt with key players like network operators, government agencies and the dealers, which harmonized interests, Mukite says in this particular one, they are going to “soak” the users with a lot of information to drive behavioral change among the Ugandan phone users, adding that they do not have control over the sources of these phones, but they can talk to the users.
According to Mukite, such devices include those with invalid International Mobile Equipment Identity (IMEI), those with tampered as well as those which have not been type-approved by the commission.
Fighting counterfeit electronics gadgets is a global campaign, and it is estimated that phone manufacturers lost up to 48 billion dollars to fake phones, when they sold 184 million devices fewer in 2015 according to the European Union Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO), in collaboration with the International Telecommunication Union (ITU),
They also indicate that as of 2015, the highest number of sales of these counterfeits is in Africa at 21.3 percent, Latin America at 19.6 percent, the Middle East at 17.4 percent, China at 15.6 percent, and Asia-Pacific (11.8 percent).