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Godfrey Mutabazi

By Omondi Julius Odera, Kampala, Uganda

The days of counterfeit phones and other fake telecommunications devices in Uganda are numbered. The Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) shall de-link fake phones from connecting to the country’s existing mobile network soon.

Counterfeiting – known as bicupuli in Ugandan speak - means copying an original item, especially consumer products, with the intent of deceiving or defrauding the buyers. Unfortunately, counterfeiting has become so pervasive in Uganda that it includes telecommunication devices such as mobile phone handsets.

The Commission’s action to de-link fake mobile phones from connectivity is provided for under the Communications (Telecommunications and Radio Communications Equipment Type Approval) Regulations, 2005.

As a first step, the Commission has initiated a process to curb the influx of counterfeit phones in Uganda. On September 3, 2012, UCC held a meeting at UCC House Board Room with representatives of Huawei Technologies (U) Co. Ltd, ZTE (U) Ltd, Transtel Ltd and Fone Plus Ltd (Midcom). The latter two are authorised dealers for Samsung and Nokia phone respectively.

In the meeting, Godfrey Mutabazi, the Executive Director of UCC, said fake mobile phones that do not meet the stipulated international standard for products should not be imported into Uganda.

“The sudden influx of fake telecommunications devices in Uganda is a serious concern.  These phones are low in quality and do not meet safety standards, and in some situation, the radiation from them is beyond the permissible limits and can cause serious damage to the health of Ugandans,” he said.

Mutabazi said apart from the health hazards that consumers of counterfeit products are exposed to, the bicupuli phones are a threat to the national economy and security.  “During the past few years there has been a categorical rise in mobile users – 17 million Ugandans as of to-date - thereby increasing the demand of various types of mobiles. These phones are usually not subjected to any regulatory authority and thereby not made in conformity to relevant standards and specifications.

Mutabazi said the poor quality of service experienced by some mobile phone users may be due to the quality of their handsets.

The equipment vendors noted that even new models are being faked and sold in the markets as soon as a new original is released. They expressed concern over this bicupuli phenomenon seems to be affecting the prices of their products in Uganda as well as global brands.

Mutabazi said UCC would work closely with other regulatory agencies – such as the Uganda National Bureau of Standards (UNBS), the National Environment Regulatory Authority (NEMA), among others - to fight the influx of fake mobile phones into Uganda. 

Mutabazi advised Ugandan consumers to be cautious when buying a new mobile. “Do not be fooled by the retailer or the seller by a useless fake phone. Check the spelling of the brand name. The name is deliberately misspelled in the fake phones using the same font but a wrong spelling. ‘Nokia’ may be written as ‘Nckia’- where ‘o’ and ‘c’ look very similar,” he said, adding, “Most of these phones do not support English language. These fake phones of the same make and model come in different sizes and shapes. Prices are very low. The prices are unbelievingly low.”

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