THE much hyped mobile phone subscriber identity module (SIM) card registration that according to the Tanzania Communication Regulatory Authority ( TCRA) seeks to bar subscribers from misuse of communication services, is nothing but a white elephant. The Daily News has established that one can easily buy a new SIM card and use it to make and receive calls for up to 30 days without registering it. The following numbers were bought on Monday: 0659 936952 ( Tigo), 0689 635663 ( Airtel) and 0757 023095 ( Vodacom) A SIM card holder can also use other services such as short message services (SMS), a month-long survey in Dar es Salaam has revealed. However, security experts have warned that 30 days provided ample time for anyone with ill will to misuse a SIM card, a sharp contrast indeed to the essence of registering all SIM cards in the country. It is understood that players in the telecommunication sector under the Mobile Operators Association of Tanzania (MOAT), have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with TCRA in which they agreed in principle, not to deactivate new or unsold SIM cards already on the market. At present, a SIM card of all major operators is sold for between 500/- and 2,000/- through a network of agents and vendors across the country. Tanzania was the first country in the East African Community (EAC) region to introduce SIM card registration in a bid to, among other things, enable consumers to be identified as they use value added services such as mobile banking, mobile money transfer, electronic payments for services such as water, electricity and pay-television. The exercise was also geared towards enhancing national security and enable network operators to know their customers. In an advert by TCRA then, the regulator had noted that arrangements were made between communication networks such that all SIM cards bought will only be used to make or receive calls as well as use short message services (SMS) after being registered. The SIM card registration process is also crucial for the establishment of a Central Equipment Identification Register (CEIR) in Tanzania and other East African Community (EAC) member countries. The Electronic and Postal Communication Act (EPOCA) 2010 makes registration of all SIM cards within the country mandatory. As of September, last year, Tanzania had some 20 million mobile phone subscribers. According to TCRA statistics, Vodacom Tanzania, Airtel and Tigo command the lions share of the market with a combined market share of about 80 per cent. The three companies alone have some 18.5 million subscribers out of the 20 million subscribers countrywide. Vodacom has 8.5 million subscribers followed by Airtel with 6 million whereas Tigo has 4 million subscribers. In an emailed response to Daily News, Airtel Tanzania Head of Communication and Regulatory, Ms Beatrice Singano, said the operators has so far registered only 4 million of its over 6 million subscribers, representing a 82 per cent of its customer base. Most of our subscribers are registered and we are in the process of registering new ones, said Tigos Public Relations Executive, Mr Jackson Mmbando. He would not, however, state the number of registered subscribers. The registration exercise was introduced for the first time in July 1, 2009 in which subscribers and operators were given a period of six months up to December 31, 2009 to have completed the exercise. Given the low turn out, Scoupled with the vastness of the country, the exercise was extended to June 30, last year. Even as the regulator had insisted on sticking to the June 31 deadline, the then Minister for Science, Technology and Communication, Prof Peter Msolla, extended the deadline to July 15, last year, while presenting budget estimates for his ministry in the august House in Dodoma. No one operator is fully compliant in this respect but the regulator also understands that blocking is happening in phases and carefully done so as not to disrupt consumers and systems, said Vodacom Tanzania Head of Communication, Ms Mwamvita Makamba in an emailed response. She was, however, not in a position to state the number of Vodacom subscribers who had been registered so far. Adding; For instance, before blocking is done we check the status of the subscribers in terms of days of inactivity, whether subscribers information has been collected but not yet captured into the system and or the information collected is distorted, anyhow during transportation of the forms and thus the required information cannot be uploaded into the system. She said the operator is also cautious on blocking SIM cards for fear of negative customer experience and corporate reputation. We will block a number (a SIM card) which we are certain that the customer has indeed not registered. It must be understood that registration of subscribers is a process that is being implemented in a vast country, she said. According to Ms Makamba, all operators understand the obligation under the law to register new subscribers as they purchase SIM cards, noting that the law and MoU signed between the operators and the TCRA allows some days between 15 and 30 days to complete the registration process. This decision, she said, was made after taking into account the vastness of our country and the actual process involved from the point of sale of a SIM card, the collection of forms to uploading the customers information into the operators systems. Chief Executives Officers (CEOs) and senior officials of major operators namely Vodacom, Airtel, Tigo and Zantel met on November 1, this year, to discuss and deliberate on the various practical challenges their companies face in the exercise. Some members at the meeting suggested that new or unsold SIM cards should be deactivated to force subscribers to register. However, it was observed that the suggestion was not only impractical, but also not envisaged in the MoU between the operators. At the end of the meeting a common understanding was reached and communicated to the regulator (as MOAT) to the effect that new unsold SIM cards shall not be deactivated, as neither the law nor the MoU requires such deactivation, said the Vodacom official. A set of written questions emailed to TCRA since last week was yet to be answered as of Monday, whereas the Director General, Prof John Nkoma asked for more time to respond to the queries in a phone interview on Monday.