By Kevin Mwanza
NAIROBI, Sept 7 (Reuters) – Kenya’s president ordered the government on Wednesday to block millions of unregistered mobile phone numbers in east Africa’s biggest economy to safeguard the public against criminals. The government tried to register all users last year but only 12.4 million mobile subscribers had signed up by the October deadline, or about half of the 25 million mobile numbers in circulation. If the order is implemented, mobile service providers, who have been engaged in a bitter price war for a year, are likely to take a big hit on revenues.
President Mwai Kibaki said new laws were now in place to protect mobile service providers from legal suits for blocking SIM cards, and he directed the Ministry of Information and Communication to ensure no unregistered numbers were in use.
“There is now a legal framework to protect service providers from unnecessary legal suits,” Kibaki said at the launch of Telkom Kenya’s 3G mobile network in Nairobi, Mombasa and Kisumu.
Samuel Poghisio, Minister for Information and Communications, said Kenya was moving towards a shared telecoms infrastructure platform and would repossess idle frequencies.
“We have had problems with business people who think that resources like spectrums, like frequencies, are to be hoarded for their own individual benefit. The trend now is to share those resources and for us to use them more effectively,” he said.
“This policy shift will enable us to lower the cost of broadband significantly,” the minister said.
Safaricom , Kenya’s largest telecoms operator, and Telkom Kenya, controlled by France Telecom’s Orange, are already in the process of forming a joint infrastructure management firm that will help them cut costs.
Kenya, estimated to have over 10 million internet users with a large majority accessing the web from mobiles, is planning to build a fourth-generation Long Term Evolution (LTE) services network for faster internet connections.
Safaricom is the only provider in Kenya with a country-wide 3G network and is testing LTE technology at five sites. Indian operator Bharti Airtel’s local unit received a 3G licence in July 2010 and is preparing to launch a rival service. (Editing by David Clarke and Will Waterman)