PAKISTAN: Fun is over with cheap Chinese cellphones

The Pakistan Telecommunication Authority denies blocking hundreds of counterfeit phones produced in China

Dawn
Wednesday, July 2, 2008

By Jamal Shahid

ISLAMABAD --- Hundreds of people using counterfeit mobile phones are in a quandary because their cellphones have been mysteriously blocked.

Popular amongst middle and lower middle class, counterfeit cellphones largely manufactured in China have flooded the markets in the last one year.

But in the last two days hundreds of users of such sets have been fighting to get their phones activated after they mysteriously became non-functional.

While the dirty end of the stick was being pointed at the government, the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) cleared the air by denying anything to do with the blocking of the phones.

What makes this case slightly different is that hundreds of Chinese mobile phones of one particular serial number or International Mobile Equipment Identity (IMEI) 135790246811220 suddenly went dead.

Mobile phone shops had racked up impressive number of complaints. Dozens of customers stormed they shops where they could be seen stuck in unwanted quarrel with mobile sellers who refused to unlock phones believed to be blocked by the PTA.

"A number of our fuming customers have been coming back to us arguing and fighting that the Chinese mobile phones we sold them have gone dead," All Pakistan Mobile Phone Franchise President Chaudhry Mohammad Waseem told this reporter.

"We cannot unlock phones that have been blocked by PTA. It's against the law," he said.

In the last two days, sales of all Chinese-made cellphone had also come to a complete stop, said Mr Waseem, who is also the president of Mobile Phones Traders Welfare Association, Islamabad.

Accusing PTA of having blocked the phones, Mohammad Yousaf, another mobile shop owner, said blocking Chinese phones was unfair as many ordinary people could not afford buying expensive original ones.

According to a PTA spokesman, the authority had not directed blocking of handsets imported from China.

"In fact, PTA has nothing to do with the import of mobile handsets nor does it type approval of handsets," he said.

The authority only block stolen/snatched sets through IMEI number, when reported by a complainant.

Unfortunately, hundreds and thousands of copied mobile sets with the same serial number or IMEI were being imported into Pakistan.

Every cellphone has its own unique 15-digit IMEI used to identify an individual mobile station to a GSM or UMTS network. The IMEI number facilitates an important function.

It easily identifies a mobile phone being used on a GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications) network. The IMEI is a useful tool to stop a phone that is stolen from accessing a network and being used.

Mobile phone owners that have their phones stolen can contact PTA and ask them to ban or shut off a phone using its IMEI number. With an IMEI number, the phone can be banned from the network quickly and easily.

Ashiq Hussain, owner of Visual Communication, said he saw the problem coming. "It is only a matter of time before these people who buy fake phones suffer. Buyers of fake phones are at a losing end," he added.

Nonetheless, mobile phone shop owners believe that PTA should at least give a second chance and unlock phones so that many other users do not suffer.