The Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) is to follow Kenya’s lead and switch off counterfeit phone handsets at the end of next month, with a study indicating that around 30 percent of mobile phones on the market are fake.
The study was conducted by Makerere University scholar Aloysius Kasoma and has been certified by the UCC. It suggests that the government loses around USh15 billion (US$5.8 million) in taxes on fake phones.
The UCC has moved to stop this loss of revenue by announcing that counterfeit gadgets will be switched off at the end of November. But UCC public relations officer Isaac Kalembe told New Vision that, unlike in Kenya, existing subscribers will not be blocked.
“We shall not block existing customers because we know people spent money to acquire their handset and might affect them in so many ways,” he said. “However, after November, no one will be able to access any network using a fake phone.”
“The new buyers should be aware of the phones they are buying,” he added, warning that fake phones were likely to enter Uganda from Kenya, where the Communications Commission of Kenya switched off phones last week.
The Uganda Revenue Authority says that Uganda imported 120,258 mobile phones in July, with an estimated worth of USh5.87 billion (US$2.3 million), an increase from the 81,650 imported in May.
It is phones from China that have caused the most concern to consumers. Dealers in Kampala told New Vision that in the wake of the UCC’s announcement clients were wary of products from China.
“They (clients) no longer want to purchase the ‘Made in China’ phones because they believe most Chinese phones are fake,” said phone dealer Martha Nakato. “They do not want to lose their monies when UCC’s notice finally takes effect.”
“Most people nowadays want to know where the phone was made and if it is from China, they tend to lose interest but this was not the case before. I do not know what we are going to do because 80 to 90 percent of the phones we sell are from China.”
Kalembe assured consumers that not all Chinese phones were fake, and that the counterfeits could come from a number of countries.
“People should not take it for granted that Chinese phones are fake while European phones are genuine,” he said. “Fake handsets come from everywhere and this is what we are trying to stop because they are a health and an environmental hazard.”
UCC executive director Eng Godfrey Mutabaazi told the Daily Monitor that the UCC would establish a brand authentication centre to prevent product imitation and work with stakeholders to tackle the problem.
“Once we put the authentication centre in place, then we shall need to consult players, consumer organisations and service providers on how we can execute this plan,” he said. “All this will be complete by the end of the year, and then we can be able to begin tracking down fake phones on the market.”