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SA races for RICA deadline: 3.6m still outside net

Around 3.6-million South African mobile accounts have not yet been registered as the RICA deadline arrives. ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK sums up the state of play.

Yesterday I received a call from an elderly woman. ‚Can you tell me what this RICA thing is all about?‚

She’d heard me talk about it on radio, and thought it might affect her.

It sure does. If she’d tried to make the same call a week later, she wouldn’t have been able to get a signal. Her phone number would have been disconnected. She would have failed to comply with the Regulation of Interception of Communication Act (RICA), and her cellular network provider would have been obliged to remove her number from their network.

How could she not have known about it? The networks have invested many millions of rands on a marketing and education campaign, and you can barely enter a retail outlet without seeing the reminders.

But we tend to forget that there are numerous people who don’t read newspapers, who switch off mentally or physically when any business or technology topic is discussed on radio or TV, and who don’t pay attention to signage in stores.

World Wide Worx had assumed that the deadline would arrive on 30 June 2011 with around 10 per cent of SIM cards not yet RICA registered. It had already been extended from the end of December 2010, and that had been a new deadline set after a previous one had proved unrealistic.

So by now everyone would have been given a chance to register, right?

Not quite.

Many of the SIM cards in use in the past year have been secondary cards. The 52.6-million* active accounts as at the end of March 2011 in reality only represent 39-million users. Around 3 to 4 million are SIM cards for mobile broadband modems, and up to a million represent ‚SIM farms‚ , PABX switchboards and machine-to-machine use like GSM tracking devices. That would still have left around 5-million potential cut-offs.

The reality has proved only slightly rosier. As of 22 June, the networks reported the following levels of compliance:

Vodacom: 93%. Leaving 1,855,000 accounts unregistered.

MTN contracts: 98%. Leaving 68 680 unregistered.

MTN Pre-paid: 93%, Leaving 1,103,410 accounts unregistered.

Cell C: 91%. Leaving 639 000 unregistered.

The grand total of RICA-unready users, then, is 3,666,090. That comes to 6.9% of the overall base of SIM cards in use, and well below the worst case scenario.

That’s a lot of cards to fall off the grid in one fell swoop, but there are two pieces of good news in this:

The bad news is that even one or two million people being cut off will result in a flood of complaints, bad news stories of the impact of the cut-off, and a public relations storm for the networks. Don’t try their call centres for the next week or two if your query is not essential!

* World Wide Worx data

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