SIM card registration law: A litmus test for PH telcos
The main agenda of SIM (subscriber identity module) card registration is to curb the proliferation of text scams. But there appears an unintended repercussion: it can further heat up the already cutthroat competition in the telecommunication industry.
In a study, First Metro Securities Brokerage Corp. and DBS underscore the need for Globe Telecom Inc., Smart Communications Inc. and DITO Telecommunity to offer the best quality in terms of services to keep their mobile subscribers and encourage them to register under their current operators.
Existing mobile subscribers have until April 26, or 180 days after enactment of the SIM Card Registration Law, to comply or their SIM cards will be deactivated. The process started on Dec. 27, 2022.
“In the longer run, we see this will lead to consolidation of market share towards operators with superior technology that can offer a better user experience versus their competitors,” the research explains.
Globe and Smart are no strangers to investing billions of pesos in capital expenditures to improve their service offerings and grow their subscriber base, especially with the entry a few years ago of third telco player DITO, which has also been spending a lot to make its presence felt across the country.
Investments include putting up new cell sites, data centers and undersea cable systems to meet the increasing demand for digitalization, a trend accelerated by the pandemic amid strict mobility restrictions. There has been a recent focus on 5G as well given the need for quicker internet connectivity among users.
“We expect the operator with the better network to benefit from SIM card registration, in view of a sticky and satisfied subscriber base,” the research adds.
However, First Metro Securities and DBS predict that the SIM registration mandate will purge some SIM cards that have not been used for a long time.
“[We] expect this will cause a reduction in overall mobile subscribers, owing to the scrubbing of inactive and burner accounts,” the research says. The regulators are anticipating about 168 million subscribers to register on or before the deadline in a few months.
Some subscribers are also expected to be “disenfranchised” by the mandatory enlistment, especially those who do not have valid IDs (a requirement to register) and access to registration portals, the study explains, adding that others are “unwilling to share personal information.”
Not yet a success
Within two weeks of SIM card registration, millions of Filipinos have been able to comply but the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) is not yet claiming a complete victory.
As of Jan. 10, 17.12 million SIM cards were already registered, according to the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT). The bulk of these were accounted for by Smart with 8.04 million, followed by Globe with 7.56 million and DITO with 1.52 million.
“The success, we can determine that after the full implementation,” NTC Deputy Commissioner Jon Paulo Salvahan tells the Inquirer.
After all, the early period of this mandatory enlistment was marked by technical glitches that left some subscribers frustrated or disappointed with the process.
Registrants, to recall, complained about the online portals of the telecommunication companies being down or inaccessible, as the digital platforms could no longer handle the website traffic surge. Globe has a mobile subscriber base of 87.9 million; Smart, 67.99 million; and DITO, 15 million.
Other concerns included the failure to secure one-time PINs (personal identification number) and system errors during the registration.
The regulators are aware of such issues, explaining these were only expected in any newly launched information technology system. These technical concerns were described as birth pains. Nonetheless, Salvahan says telcos have been making improvements to make the process easier and seamless for the public.
“As far as NTC is concerned, we are satisfied … [with] how the telcos are handling the SIM registration, as well as the enhancement of the system after the first three days of registration,” NTC officer in charge Commissioner Ella Blanca Lopez says at a press briefing.
The improvements on the portals, true enough, have allowed more users to complete the registration process. The regulators also have observed fewer queries or complaints about the mandatory enlistment.
Now, the government and the telecom firms are all about reaching out to the remote areas where subscribers may have challenges in complying due to lack of internet connectivity.
Information and Communications Technology Undersecretary Anna Mae Lamentillo says they are keen on providing technical assistance in geographically isolated and disadvantaged areas, which represent about 27 percent of the barangays across the country.
She says the DICT is working with the telcos and other government agencies “to facilitate the SIM registration and fast track the process in areas with limited telecommunication or internet access the soonest possible time.”
This is as the agency targets to register at least a million SIM cards everyday.
“Currently, we are on track, but there could be a lull, and then a surge again once we are near the deadline,” Lamentillo shares.
NTC’s Lopez says their team conducted an operational planning for the rollout of the technical assistance.
Last week, the regulator visited Barangay Sapang Kawayan in Masantol, Pampanga, to “have a feel of how it is going to be” when registration initiatives are implemented in remote areas.
A boat is needed to reach the barangay surrounded by bodies of water, the official notes. In this location, internet connectivity is poor and the residents are not fully aware of the mandatory SIM card registration, she adds.
“With that exercise, we can report these are the challenges that we have to prepare for,” she says.
Smart has rolled out SIM registration booths across the country this month. In February, Globe will also set up sites to assist subscribers.
The SIM card registration measure, signed in October last year, has the main goal of curbing the widespread text scams, which have been proven to lead to financial losses for the victims.
The spam messages offer fake lottery winnings or too-good-to-be-true job opportunities, so users will be enticed to click on malicious links embedded on these texts. Mobile subscribers have been warned against doing so because it can enable hackers to illegally obtain their personal information such as bank account details.
Still, Lopez stresses this measure is not an “all-end solution” to cybercrimes. But the mandatory enlistment is expected to weaken these digital attacks as the hackers, upon full implementation, can no longer hide behind anonymity. About 97 percent of all mobile accounts in the country are prepaid, based on Statista’s 2020 estimate. These prepaid accounts are the ones most used as burner phones by people who want to conceal identity, whether or not for unscrupulous purposes.
Meanwhile, a new form of scam has emerged, showing that hackers have been upping their game to capitalize on the current situation.
PLDT and Smart head of corporate communications Cathy Yang shares that hackers are now offering “help” with SIM registration for a fee to subscribers who are not knowledgeable enough about the process. She reiterates that the mandatory enlistment itself is free, and so is asking for assistance.
“It is not a silver bullet. It cannot solve it alone. But it’s one element that keeps us ahead of the bad factors, the bad guys out there,” Yang says.
“We want to remind our customers to be wary of these types of offers and to only use official channels for their SIM registration,” Globe chief privacy officer Irish Salandanan-Almeida adds.
The NTC, for its part, vows to continue campaigns against scams to protect the public. INQ
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