Ghost in the machine: Uganda’s 4.2 million mystery SIM cards

24 Aug 2017

The government of Uganda says local cellcos are unable to account for at least 4.2 million ‘ghost’ subscribers prior to the country’s SIM re-registration deadline on 31 August. Under new legislation authorities now require all mobile accounts to be linked to an individual’s national ID card. A report from The Observer says that 2.5 million SIM card details submitted by market leader MTN cannot be matched to a user with an entry on the National Identification and Registration Authority (NIRA) database. Second-placed operator Airtel has 941,000 such records, while Africell has 542,111, UTL has 236,891 and Vodafone has 1,435.

The erroneous records may be due to a subscriber submitting incorrect details with their registration. There are also suspicions that many cards are linked to so-called ‘SIM box’ or interconnect bypass fraud, which illegally redirects traffic onto a mobile network to take advantage of on-net tariffs and avoid call termination fees.

Uganda had hoped to complete the SIM re-registration process in May this year, but problems with issuing national ID cards meant that by the initial deadline only around half of the country’s 23 million active mobile users had been registered.

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