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Telecoms unfazed by SIM edict

Customers queue to select mobile phone numbers yesterday in Phnom Penh while purchasing SIM cards at a retail outlet.
Customers queue to select mobile phone numbers yesterday in Phnom Penh while purchasing SIM cards at a retail outlet. Vireak Mai

Telecoms unfazed by SIM edict

Telecom operators responded yesterday to a new government directive that requires retailers to collect identification documents before selling mobile phone SIM cards to customers, playing down the potential impact on their sales and saying they would cooperate with regulators to implement the diktat.

“We will work together with the industry and regulatory bodies to ensure that the directive is being complied to,” said Thomas Hundt, CEO of mobile operator Smart Axiata, which reported around 6.6 million subscribers as of March.

Officials from the National Police and the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications announced on Tuesday that retailers must ensure that customers supply identification documents before selling SIM cards or face arrest.

The directive also ordered telecom firms to get their existing subscribers to register their ID documents within three months, or their mobile phone numbers would be terminated.

A ministry official estimated that nearly 70 per cent of the Kingdom’s 20 million SIM cards had no identification attached to them. He said the crackdown aimed at curtailing criminal and terrorist activities, though rights groups have warned it could be used to curtail civil liberties.

Hundt said the regulation was not new, but had not been enforced.

“It was always required to register identity when customers buy a SIM card, and in Smart’s distribution process, identity registration is integral,” he said.

Hundt said that while Smart’s dealers were already required to collect identity information from customers, some retailers were not observing the policy strictly. He said the firm would take measures to ensure compliance, but doubted the clampdown would cut into the company’s SIM card sales.

“Given Smart’s appealing products and services, we expect a continuously high demand for our SIM cards and products,” he said.

A representative from another major telecom in Cambodia said the company issues thousands of SIM cards to authorised dealers, who in turn distribute them to smaller vendors.

“Normally the company requires the dealer to send back the form and ID card information, but sometimes the dealer loses the information,” said the representative, who declined to be named.

“It is difficult for the dealer to control all the information because they hand out thousands of SIM cards.”

The number of SIM cards with missing information was not very high, the representative said, estimating that they account for less than 10 per cent of the company’s issued SIM cards.

This was mainly an issue for telecom companies that issue free SIMs, he stressed.

“It might happen a lot to other telecom companies that issue free SIM cards for their promotion or advertising,” the representative said. “This is the reason our telecom company never gives free SIM cards to customers.”

Alan Sinfield, CEO of mobile operator qb, said enforcing the proof of identity requirement would help bring the Kingdom’s telecom sector in line with international standards.

“Further, it should promote the responsible sale and distribution of SIM cards by mobile operators and their reseller partners, which qb has always strived to do,” he said.

He added that while the company will continue to work with its resellers to uniformly implement the ID proof stipulation, it would not affect the sale of SIM cards or business operations.

Some SIM card vendors in the capital yesterday said they were unaware of the government’s new measure and were continuing to sell SIMs without the required documentation.

“Even if they don’t have any ID, they can still buy any kind of SIM card from my shop” said Soy Muy, a 55-year-old vendor. “It’s up to the customer.”

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