Kenya's move to block more than 1.4 million counterfeit mobile handsets last week is already having a ripple effect in the region, with Rwanda confirming plans to switch off telecommunications services to fake handsets in that country.
Other countries in the region including Zambia and Uganda are also incubating plans to get counterfeit handsets, mainly from China, out of the countries' telecom sector.
Kenya's telecom sector regulator, the Communications Commission of Kenya (CCK), issued a directive to all operators in the country to have counterfeit handsets blocked from accessing Kenyan mobile networks, effective Sept. 30. Following the directive, the country's four mobile operators have reported that they have so far blocked more than 1.5 million counterfeit handsets.
Meanwhile, the Zambian government has already confiscated over 2,600 counterfeit Samsung handsets from vendors while planning to block such phones from accessing the country's three networks.
Zambia Information and Communications Technology Authority (ZICTA) Director General Margaret Mudenda has warned suppliers who sell such devices about stiffer punishments and said that the country would not be used as a dumping ground for inferior and possibly hazardous ICT equipment.
"The authority is stepping up their fight against cheap, counterfeit handsets now flooding the market," Mudenda told journalists this week.
The Rwanda Utilities Regulatory Agency (RURA) has also confirmed plans to block counterfeit handsets, claiming they are affecting the quality of communications and pose a health risk to users.
Regis Gatarayiha, director general of RURA, told journalists last week that, "we are working on methodology to disconnect fake phones off the country's networks."
An initiative to switch off all counterfeit handsets has been agreed upon by the East Africa Communications Organization (EACO), meaning that all countries in East African Community have no choice but to implement the plan.
Major handsets manufacturers including Nokia and Samsung have been lobbying governments in Southern and East Africa to ban counterfeit handsets.
Safaricom, Kenya's largest telecom operator, said it was too early to assess the financial implications of the blocking exercise though it confirmed that an initial analysis indicated that 60 percent of the targeted counterfeit phones had been hit by the exercise. However, the loss of over 1.5 million subscribers is expected to affect the sale of airtime and use of money transfer services.
Kenyan consumer right group Consumer Federation of Kenya said it will seek compensation from the government on behalf of subscribers whose phones were switched off. The country's mobile operators are also urging the Kenyan government to step up measures to curb entry of fake devices in the market.
Counterfeit phones can be identified through International Mobile Equivalent Identity (IMEI) numbers imprinted on the inside of the device's battery compartment. If they are fake they are recognized in the databases of genuine mobile phone manufacturers. Service providers can then cut off service to such phones.