TELECOMS

GSM USERS MAY PAY N8.1BN ANNUALLY FOR ANTI-THEFT SCHEME IN NIGERIA

Mobile phone subscribers will pay about N8.1 billion annually under a proposal being pushed by the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) to implement a system for blocking stolen handsets on the nation's telecoms networks.

But the service will not come free as phone suscribers will cough out a monthly fee of N20 for the compulsory services if ongoing talks with stakeholders in the telecoms market, which is receiving mixed reactions, is implemented by the telecoms regulator.

Technology Times checks revealed that NCC, in its bid to check the incidence of mobile phone theft in the country has issued a licence to a company called Net Visa to begin a central equipment identity register (CEIR) that will offer a clearing house for operators to exchange data on stolen phones and block such handsets across all networks.

According to official statistics from NCC, the Nigerian mobile market which has experienced significant growth in recent years peaked at 34 million subscribers in January 2007.

Under the plan, every mobile phone users in Nigeria will pay a compulsory monthly fee of N20 that adds up to N680 million and N8.1billion in monthly and annual revenue respectively for the CEIR licensee under the proposed system championed by the NCC to stem the incidence of handset theft.

Technology Times checks revealed that the point of convergence among all stakeholders is that there is clear and urgent need for a mechanism to combat the growing incidence of mobile phone theft.

However, there is divergence of views among stakeholders on measures being taken by NCC to address the issue which some analysts reckon may enrich a few well-connected people at the expense of the exponentially-growing mobile phone users in the country.

A meeting called by NCC in Abuja Tuesday this week in Abuja among stakeholders in the sector in a bid to push ahead with the implementation of the scheme was not conclusive because of divergence of viewpoints on the regulator's implementation plans.

One of the areas in contention is the issue of the compulsory N20 monthly fee that phone users nationwide will have to pay if the NCC proposal is carried out; a developement that may also pit the regulator against mobile phone companies who claimed they are able to provide the service cost-free to users as part of their corporate social responsibility without the need for Net Visa, "which they reckon is a 'middle man' out to benefit from the mobile boom without adding any value", a source told Technology Times.

Spokesman of NCC, Dave Imoko, did not comment when asked about the issue of licence allegedly issued Net Visa. Based on this Net Visa is projected to earn an estimated N68 million monthly and N6.8 billion if the service goes live on the the contentious N20 monthly fee being proposed for the service by NCC.

The meeting could not reach a middle ground of the issue of payment by subscribers which operators are expected to deduct from the airtime of their respective subscriber base and then pass on to the CEIR licensee, sources said last week.

If the proposed fee for cell phone blocking takes off, analysts reckon that the booming mobile market is projected to pay more than the projected N8.1 billion with increasing amid increasing market growth recording over 100 per cent year-on-year.

Nigeria's mobile penetration which grew from less than one per cent in 2001 to over 24 per cent in January this year is projected by industry watchers to exceed 40 million by year end driven by industry reforms, introduction of unified access service licensing and competition among the big three GSM operators: MTN, Glo mobile and Celtel.

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