Liberia: Cellcom introduces a paperless SIM card registration process

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Liberia, one of the poorest countries in Africa has joined in the race to register its mobile users. The process was officially launched on July 18th by the Liberia Telecommunications Authority (LTA), the local telecoms regulator. The deadline for the completion of the registration process has been set to 90 days from the start day, a very short period to register about 1.6 million mobile subscribers. Isabelle Gross spoke to Avishai Marziano, the CEO of Cellcom, one of the four mobile operators active in Liberia about their initiative to launch a “paperless” registration process and what SIM registration entails for a mobile operator.

Four months ago, LTA started talking about launching the SIM registration process which would run according the telecoms regulator in parallel to the introduction of a new numbering plan for the country. In other words, LTA was of the view that it could “kill two birds with one stone”. For Avishai Marziano, the CEO of Cellcom the preparation period was a bit thigh but they started to work on it straight away in terms of preparing the information required, drafting the registration form and developing the IT front and backend that will support the registration process all along. Cellcom’s driving idea was to make the registration process fast and as paperless as possible. With these aims in mind they developed a mobile applications running on Windows7 to capture the mobile users details including the option to capture the user’s photo and valid ID card via the mobile device’s camera. All the data captured are then send to a backend server and encrypted to ensure that mobile users’ data are kept confidential. According to Avishai, the mobile application enables to capture all the data including the details of the proxy person when required and it takes less than 5 minutes to complete the registration process. He hopes that this will greatly help to catch the mobile user’s details on the spot.

To meet the 90 days deadline, Avishai reckons that the mobile operator will need to register between 3,000 and 4,000 mobile subscribers per day. This will not be too difficult in Monrovia, the capital city but going up in the country in rural areas will present more challenges because of the bad state of the roads and the raining season not yet over. In Liberia, the mobile operators also start the registration process with a blank sheet where us in African countries where mobile payment services have already been launched by mobile operators, they will already have details on their subscribers because of the KYC (Know Your Customer) banking requirements. It is easy to see that from a mobile operator’s perspective the SIM registration process is a CAPEX and OPEX intensive task and because of the short notice period given by LTA to roll out the process, mobile operators had not really factored in these expenses in their budget. However, Cellcom plans to have between 200 and 300 registration points with additional labour costs estimated between US$50,000 and US$75, 000 per month. This also means that the company’s size is going to double over a short period of time and according to Avishai, you need to make sure that the company and the people are prepared and ready for this.

Looking on the bright side of things, Avishai is convinced that the registration process is also a good opportunity for the mobile operator to acquire new customers. The registration agents have been tasked to go towards the customers in various places like the university or the army cantonments to register mobile users and recruit new customers. He also thinks that the registration of mobile users will help to develop a mobile user directory and also serves as a platform to develop other services like mobile payments services or micro-finance projects.

Besides putting in place all the front and backend to support the registration process, Liberia’s mobile operators are also left with the task of explaining the registration process to the mobile users. According to Avishai, things are going well so far and customers have shown more confidence towards the electronic registration rather then filling in a paper form. Mobile users seem to entrust more mobile operators than a public administration that their personal data are protected and safe with them. Although the regulation on the SIM registration issued by LTA specified that the telecom regulator will keep the mobile users data in a Central Subscribers Database under its care, control and management, the current situation is that mobile operators will register and keep their subscribers data and only disclose individual details upon a request from LTA. This might actually not be such a bad thing considering what is happening in South Africa where a national audit of the mobile subscribers database has been recently ordered by the government in move to understand the extent of the illegitimate entries.


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