ISLAMABAD: The Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) has re-verified round about 70 million SIMs so far and blocked 11 million others which were disowned since the start of the biometric SIM re-verification system.
“We understand that subscribers have had to stand in queues. But we have tried to make the process as friendly as possible. We appreciate the cooperation of the subscribers with the government to ensure safety and security in the country,” said PTA Chairman Dr Ismail Shah, urging the subscribers to re-verify their connections before April 12.
Speaking at a press conference, Dr Shah, who was flanked by the chief executive officers (CEOs) of all five cellular companies, explained how the biometric SIM re-verification started on January 12, 2015, following directions from the Ministry of Interior. The exercise was taken up after the December 16, 2014, terror incident in a public school in Peshawar in which more than 100 children were killed.
The interior ministry had given the PTA 90 days to get over 100 million connections re-verified and block the disowned SIMs under the National Action Plan. The biometric re-verification system required all SIM owners to visit the sale points set up by cellular mobile operators across the country to get their connections re-verified through thumb impressions.
“The cellular operators have had to make a lot of sacrifices but this exercise is important to verify all the connections,” said the PTA chief, adding the April 12 deadline would not be extended.
In reply to a question, the PTA chief said the roaming of Afghan SIMs had already been blocked in Pakistan.
The media persons at the press conference learnt that 80,000 biometric verification machines worth $300 to $400 each were installed throughout the country.
The cellular companies invested heavily in the re-verification process. All the cellular companies, including the government, picked up losses in the process but the PTA chairman said the losses would be recovered once security situation in the country improved.
“We urge all subscribers who have not re-verified their connections to do it before the deadline to avoid inconvenience,” said CEO Telenor Michael Foley. He also asked the media to help the companies spread the message. He explained how his company had invested $600 million to make the exercise successful.
“We are colleagues as well as competitors but today we work as a team to complete this critically important exercise to ensure safety of the people of Pakistan,” said Jeffrey Hedberg, the CEO of Mobilink.
Despite the losses, the CEOs described Pakistan as an exciting market. “The losses are a small blip and this is our contribution towards an important cause,” added Michael Foley who described Pakistan as a fascinating place to invest.
“We are committed and with the commitment come costs. We are here for a long time and Pakistan offers great opportunities in terms of growth,” said Jeffrey Hedberg.
The heads of the cellular companies said they understood that there had been problems when it came to verification devices malfunctioning and people being overcharged but they went after the problems to finish the exercise before the deadline.