In possibly one of the most secret use of mobile subscriber identity modules (SIM) cards for criminal and illegal VoIP termination has been the misuse of a loophole allowing the legal purchase of 75 SIMS in one name, according to a finding of the independent regulator Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC).
The BTRC, which was now set to act on stopping such malpractices, found a loophole in its five-year-old guideline on SIM registration after it conducted a series of inspections and drives against illegal VoIP using the SIMs of the GrameenPhone Ltd, the Robi Axiata Ltd, the Banglalink Digital Ltd and State-owned Teletalk Bangladesh Ltd.The BTRC is now planning to review the old faulty guideline that allowed criminal activities and illegal VoIP call termination.
A four-member committee led by director general (SS) Brig. Gen. A B M Humayan Kabir has been formed to review policy on lack of coordination in biometric registration of SIM cards.
“We have formed the committee to find out loopholes of biometric registrations,” Jahirul Huque, the BTRC chairman, told the daily sun on Sunday. He said the committee was asked to submit a concrete report in this matter.
“The Illegal VoIP call termination has drastically reduced in recent times due to continuous drives. We have a zero tolerance against illegal activities,” he said.
According to BTRC findings, the single cell-phone subscriber can hold or purchase 75 SIM alone, thanks for allowing five detection parameter fixed by BTRC in 2015.
Of the identification parameters, any Bangladeshi nationals can purchase or hold 15 by using five identifications, including national identification card (NID), personal identification card, birth certificate, driving license and passport.In 2015, the regulator published a policy guideline that allowed one subscriber to purchase 15 SIM by producing a NID. “If the subscriber don’t have NID, then he can also collect SIM for six months interim period by using his driving license, passport and self identification card under biometric verification process.
But, some dishonest businessmen and criminals have been purchasing at least 75 SIMs, official sources said.
The government is incurring losses in revenue worth thousands of crore of takas every year on account of the rampant rise in illegal VoIP calls, which has also dented the business of the organisations authorised to provide international gateway services.
Despite found guilty, the operators have sought to exemption the fine considering the loopholes of telecom act.
“I think the illegal VoIP call transmission will reduce significantly if thgere is goodwill between the regulator and cell-phone operators,” Ashraf h Chowdhury, a telecom expert said.
He said the criminal activities and illegal VoIP would then come down significantly.
Mohiuddin Ahmed, President of Bangladesh Mobile Phone Subscribers Association, said “our association had requested the BTRC not to allow more than four SIMs in one name. But, the regulator didn’t respond to our request.”
He added that “If anyone can use more than four SIMs then it is something wrong or can be misused like any criminal activities.”
“So the government should review the existing policy guideline,” he said.
In June 29, 2019, the BTRC found 2,350 Grameenphone SIMs that were used for illegal VoIP call terminations. It also found 16,069 SIMs of Robi, 731 SIMs of Banglalink and 28,487 SIMs of Teletalk that were used for illegal call terminations through VoIP.
Most of those SIMs were registered with the operators using fake biometric information, sources said.
Between October 14 and November 1, 2018, a total of 42,150 SIM cards were seized in raids by the BTRC in association with law enforcement agencies in the capital and the port city and 24 people were arrested on charges of running illegal voice over internet protocol (VoIP) operations.
Equipment worth Tk 1.23 crore was seized in the 23 drives in Dhaka and Chattogram, and the authorities also have filed 28 cases in this connection.
Of the SIMs confiscated, 16,812 were of Robi and Airtel, 15,939 Teletalk, 6,176 Banglalink and 3,233 Grameenphone.
A subscriber would pay Tk 245 including SIM tax while collecting it from a customer care centre, Md Sabuj, a Robi Axiata marketing executive told the daily sun.
“But, we have offered per SIM at Tk 40 only with 2GB data services and eight minute free call at the sales in pavements,” he said, adding that “I sold minimum 250 SIMs per month and maximum 450 SIMs to earn maximum Tk 14500.”
Not only Robi, but also GP and Banglalink Digital Ltd are also selling SIM cards in different busy pavements.
GP marketing agent Md Rashed said GP offers a SIM at Tk 70 with 39 return balance and 1GB data. “We have also offered free tiffin boxes to subscribers,” he said.
Besides, the BL offers each SIM at Tk 30 with 1GB data and Tk 32 return balance at Gulshan lakeside.
The marketing executives admitted they have sometimes supplied bulk SIM to different persons with biometric verification.
They said the SIM cards sales using driving lisence and passport at customer care centre for six month interim period.
Investigating sale of Robi, GP, BL and Teletalk SIM cards, the BTRC found retailers sold SIM cards free of cost or nominal prices despite SIM tax valued at Tk 200 and SIM price Tk 45.
“The nominal or free of cost SIM cards sales by cell phone retailers and distributors will encourage illegal VoIP and criminal activities,” it findings said.
BTRC has slapped mobile operators Grameenphone, Robi, Banglalink and Teletalk with a collective fine of Tk. 50 million for call terminations through illegal Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP). Even after biometric registration, which was done to safeguard the telecoms against such illegal operations, SIMs of those mobile phone operators were used to terminate calls through illegal VoIP.
The BTRC also found huge SIM cards with a single subscriber after conducting four separate inspections against the illegal VoIP call transmission at GP, Robi Axiata, BanglaLink digital and Teletalk Bangladesh Ltd between September 29, 2019 and October 24, 2019, official sources said.
The BTRC conducted the drives after the recovery of huge illegal VoIP SIMs between March 3, 2018 and August 1, 2019.
The drive was led by its director general Brig. Gen. Md. Mahfuzul Karim Majumder E&D.
According to the findings of the BTRC that it had allowed purchase of only 15 registered SIM by using the single identification. But it was unclear how the cards together using all the five identifications. It suggested introduction of a central synchronization for registration of the biometric SIM cards by using all five documents.
It also recommended review the directives which is unclear about the procurement and registration of SIMs using biometric registration.
The BTRC found the retail and distribution level SIM cards sales by only flexiload exchange of nominal price.
The free of cost SIM sale by retailers can encourage illegal call termination. So the BTRC team proposed for a separate directive in this regard.