Business

Much ado about IMEI submission

Amidst the on-going NIN-SIM linkage exercise, Nigerians, last week, woke up to a report indicating that mobile phone users in the country would have to submit their IMEI. While the telecoms regulator has since debunked the report, SAMSON AKINTARO, in this report, analyses the objectives of Device Management System (DMS) deployment in the country, the process of which the Nigerian Communications Commission had started since 2019

Nigerians were, last week, thrown into a frenzy of sort over a report that mobile users in the country would be compelled to submit the International Mobile Equipment Identity (IMEI) of their phones to the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) from July 2021. While the report quoted the Revised National Identity Policy for SIM Card Registration recently launched by the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Dr. Isa Pantami and wrongly assumed that subscribers would be asked to submit their IMEI, the deployment of Device Management System (DMS) has been an initiative of the telecoms regulator, which is aimed at protecting the telecom consumer. According to stakeholders, the smuggling of the DMS into the revised SIM Registration Policy by the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy gave room for the outcry over an idea that is being methodically implemented by the telecoms regulator. This created the false impression that after being made to link their National Identification Number with their SIMs, government also wanted them to submit their phone IMEIs to be monitoring all citizens. From NCC’s perspective of the initiative as announced by the regulator in 2019, the DMS system is designed in such a way that phone users do not need to register or submit their IMEI to anybody. Rather, it provides another layer for the Commission on its type-approval of mobile devices process whereby phone manufacturers/importers and dealers are, at the point of entry, able to submit all the IMEIs of their devices for the regulator to ascertain that they conform to ITU specifications and prescribed standards. This process, according to NCC, will ensure that phones being sold to Nigerians are not substandard or fake.

How it started

Worried by the recurrent cycle of fraudsters deploying their trade via fake and substandard mobile devices, the Office of the National Security Adviser (ONSA), in collaboration with NCC and other government agencies, in 2019, set up committees to combat the situation. The two joint committees set up included the Project Steering Committee (PSC), comprising the Infrastructure Concession Regulatory Commission (ICRC), the Federal Ministry of Communications and NCC; and the Project Delivery Team (PDT), which drew representation from the Federal Ministry of Communications, the ICRC, the Federal Ministry of Finance and NCC. The committees, with specific terms of references, were to work together to ensure the implementation of Mobile Devices Management Systems (DMS), a public-private partnership project aimed at combatting the proliferation of fake, counterfeit, substandard and cloned mobile communications devices in the telecommunication industry. While inaugurating the committees in Abuja, the Executive Vice Chairman (EVC) of NCC, Prof. Umar Garba Danbatta, said the move was in line with the mandate of the Commission, as enshrined in the Nigerian Communications Act (NCA), 2003, to type-approve all devices used in the telecommunications industry and to ensure that all devices used in the telecommunications industry are in line with agreed standards and specifications. According to him, the principal objective of the proposed DMS project is to “establish a secure and comprehensive single-window solution that will enable the Commission to implement a proven solution in the Nigerian environment that is sustainable and demonstrate value for money, in addition, helping to address the various concerns that have been raised with NCC from the Office of the National Security Adviser (ONSA) in our regular interactions on security matters as it concerns the telecommunications industry.” He said the increasing cybercrime, evasion of taxes, terrorism, and health and safety concerns raised by the use of stolen, counterfeit and substandard devices in Nigeria is a responsibility, which NCC takes seriously. “In 2015, NCC organised a stake-holder forum aimed at developing recommendations that could influence decision and policy directions, leading to solutions to combat the issue of counterfeit and substandard information and communication technology devices in the country. Based on the importance of the project to NCC, the Bureau of Public Procurement (BPP) and ICRC were engaged for a no-objection to advertise for the International Competitive Bidding (ICB) process towards the acquisition of an effective DMS solution, adding that the ICRC subsequently recommended the establishment of the two committees to fast-track the process,” he said. Representative of the then Minister of Communications, Chief Adebayo Shittu, and Permanent Secretary at the Ministry at that time, Mrs. Nkechi Ejele, had commended NCC for the initiative, stressing that she was impressed with the comprehensive and clear terms of reference given to the committees. “The ministry has no doubt that thorough implementation of the terms of references as reeled out by Prof. Danbatta in his presentation, will ensure effective delivery of the project aimed at sanitising the economy of fake devices with their attendant challenges,” she said.

Why DMS?

According to NCC, the implementation of DMS in Nigeria is aimed at addressing the issue of influx of fake phones and counterfeit mobile/terminal devices in collaboration with other relevant agencies in the country. This solution, the Commission said, would also help the country in tackling the problem of e-wastes by being able to curb the entry of substandard mobile phones into the country. By so doing, the Commission will contribute to ensuring that the environment is not toxic and harmful to people’s health arising from the negative impact of e-waste dumping all over the country. The DMS system will also ensure that consumers are protected to have access to and purchase only genuine mobile devices, while the connection of substandard/fake phones to the networks of mobile operators is eliminated. Industry experts have noted that when substandard phones are connected to any network to access telecoms services, it can degrade the quality of service. Other objectives, according to the policy, include mitigating mobile phone theft and protect Nigerians from been attacked to snatch their mobile phones and other smart devices; and to blacklist and render all stolen mobile phones and other smart devices valueless in the Nigerian mobile phones market.

IMEIs and DMS

A recently launched Nigerian Telecoms Law and Regulation, co-authored by Quasim Odunmbaku, a telecoms regulatory professional at NCC and Rotimi Akapo, a lawyer, who specialises in telecommunications, media and technology practice, captures the issue of IMEIs and the planned deployment of DMS in Nigeria. Highlighting the importance of IMEIs, the authors explain that every mobile device (i.e. handsets, dongles, tracking devices, netbooks, etc.) has a unique IMEI number, which enables mobile networks on which they are used to identify the device for the primary purpose of knowing what kind of services to provision for it and generally track it on the network. “The GSM Association (GSMA) issues IMEI numbers to Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) and manages the global IMEI system through the global IMEI Database (IMEI DB). “In time, other uses have been found for the IMEI database. For instance, the IMEI database has proved particularly useful in curtailing the theft of mobile handsets and the criminal use of such devices. “Because of the global dimensions of such crimes, the GSMA and several jurisdictions have co-operated to set up Central Equipment identity Registries (CEIR), which enable them to blacklist implicated devices and prevent their furtherr use on individual networks across other participating jurisdictions. Equipment registries are also very useful for crime detection and prevention,” they said. While noting that there is currently no CEIR framework in Nigeria, following the failure of an earlier attempt in that regard, the authors pointed out that the plans by NCC to introduce a Device Management System (DMS) would serve as an enhanced CEIR. Justifying the need for DMS deployment in Nigeria, the authors note that “a huge number of devices in use in Nigeria (and other developing countries) are marked with cloned or duplicated IMEIs, meaning that a large number of devices may have the same IMEI. Also, many devices are secondhand/ used devices, which may have been stolen, but are purchased for value by users.”

Last line

The hurried lumping of the DMS solution into the Revised National Digital Identity Policy for SIM Card Registration by the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy obviously shows a lack of understanding of the system. There is no doubt that this regulatory instrument as being methodically planned by NCC will help the telecom consumer in many ways, including protection against buying substandard and counterfeit phones as well as a reduction in incidences of phone theft.

 

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