The Irrawaddy

Communications Ministry: Users Must Register SIM Cards or Lose Service

A customer looks through SIM cards for sale in Botahtaung Township in Rangoon on August 2, 2016. (Photo: Pyay Kyaw / The Irrawaddy)

RANGOON – All SIM card users in Burma must complete registration forms with their network providers or face a disruption to their mobile phone service, according to the Ministry of Transport and Communications, which published the alert in a state-run newspaper on Tuesday.

If users fail to register before March 31, 2017, network operators will temporarily eliminate service to unregistered SIM cards, the ministry said. The move is reportedly to protect public safety and to allow for SIMs to used as identification devices in online shopping and mobile banking. Registration of SIM technology could also help to match lost or damaged cards to their owners.

To register with their respective operators, users need to present an identification document and a local address; foreigners need to bring a passport.

Tuesday’s announcement suggested that the Ministry of Transport and Communications had already instructed telecom operators to follow such guidelines during previous years.

But Pann Ei Phyu, an employee at Inn Gyin Phyu mobile shop in Rangoon’s Botahtaung Township, said that they no longer require customers to present identification documents for any of their three mobile provider SIM cards—Ooredoo, Telenor, or MPT. Initially, staff members at the shop registered SIM cards, she said, but since 2015, service providers reportedly no longer distribute registration forms.

“It is bad thing for both of us [salespeople and customers], because many buyers are not educated people—all they know is how much their SIM costs,” Pann Ei Phyu said of the renewed registration requirements.

When Burma began promotion of the telecommunications sector in early 2014, two foreign companies—Norway’s Telenor and Qatar’s Ooredoo—won the tender. Today millions of SIM cards have been sold to mobile users for 1,500 kyats (US$1.27) each. Until 2011, a SIM card on the Burmese market set consumers back around 200,000 kyats (US$169), when the service was monopolized by Myanmar Posts and Telecommunications (MPT), a state-owned provider. According to service providers’ figures, MPT currently has 20 million active users, Telenor has 17 million and Ooredoo has 7 million.

Like Pann Ei Phyu, One One Mobile shop owner Nay Lin said network promotion teams had come to his shop asking him to sell their SIM cards, but that they did not bring registration forms. He worries that registration of SIMs will be viewed as a restriction, and could harm the profits of small businesses like his shop.

Alex Nyi Nyi Aung, a senior expert in corporate communications for Telenor, told The Irrawaddy that they are collaborating with 70,000 shops throughout the country to inform all salespeople to request identification documents. Unregistered users can still fill in the required form at their nearest Telenor SIM card provider.

“We will push our shops to educate our customers about registration when they buy SIM cards,” he said.

A senior communication officer at Ooredoo said that they have 100 official stores across the country and that it is standard procedure to request that SIM card customers bring a driver’s license, a National Registration Card, or another valid identification document.

She denies the assertion of staff members in shops like One One Mobile or Inn Gyin Phyu that there has been no instruction or provision for them to register SIM cards; she said that the user information form is folded up within the SIM card package, and that it is up to the buyer to fill it out, and to the shopkeeper to collect it.

Awareness posters in Ooredoo franchise shops state that “SIM card buyers must register from November 2015.”

A Rangoon SIM card vendor, Naing Win, estimates that he has sold around 10,000 SIM cards—which he bought from wholesale traders—without filling in registration forms.

“The government’s instructions will make my business more difficult,” said Naing Win, who earns around 10,000 kyats (US$8.44) per day selling the cards.

The Irrawaddy contacted Than Htun Aung, director-general of the Posts and Telecommunications Department in Naypyidaw, by phone to learn more about the registration process, but, at the time of publication, reporters were unable to reach him.