ISLAMABAD: For being costlier than the local and imported smartphones, the number of smuggled phones is increasing in the country whereas the sets are largely being used in Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) and Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK).
Interestingly, according to sources, the precious mobile phone sets, which cannot not be operated in the four provinces and federal capital of the country, are being used in GB and AJK as both the regions are not connected with the registration system of Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA).
As per details, the increasing number of smuggled phones in the country is mainly due to their lower prices compared to local and imported phones avail in local market, and the fact that they are not subject to import duties. In GB and AJK, these phones are in high demand, and there is little to no regulation of their usage.
According to industry experts, more than 100,000 smuggled mobile phones are being used in these regions, with most of them being operated through the Special Communication Organization (SCO), known as SCOM.
The PTA is the regulatory body that oversees the telecommunications industry in Pakistan. According to insiders, apart from the import duty, the smuggled phones are also being used without payment of PTA’s registration fee. Additionally, these phones are not registered with the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) and do not comply with the country’s laws and regulations.
The use of these phones is facilitated by the lack of the Device Identification, Registration and Blocking System (DIRBS) in GB and AJK. This system, which is designed to identify non-compliant devices operating on local mobile networks, is only implemented in the four provinces and the federal capital of Pakistan. The DIRBS system automatically registers compliant devices operating on the mobile networks and eventually blocks non-compliant devices. However, in the case of GB and AJK, this system is not applicable to the SCOM connections.
Moreover, the lack of regulations and legal barriers in GB and AJK also make it easier for smugglers to operate. According to sources, these smuggled phones are making their way to these regions through different channels, including smuggling and theft. Many of these phones are blocked in mainland Pakistan, either because they were not registered with PTA or stolen, and the IMEI has been blocked.
Experts suggest that the lack of local manufacturing and the halt in the import of mobile phone sets has caused a shortage of smartphones in these regions, which is being filled by the smuggled sets. Moreover, the demand for mobile sets in GB and AJK is between eight to ten percent of the total monthly demand in Pakistan.
According to Manzar Shigri, a local businessman in Gilgit, the smuggled or non-duty paid phones are only operated through the SCOM network, whereas other SIMS like Telenor, ZONG, JAZZ, etc., are not operated in the same phone sets. This is because SCOM is the key mobile operator in GB and AJK.
According to officials, the PTA and the Ministry of IT and Telecom have written to the Cabinet Division to integrate SCOM into DIRBS. Once the approval is granted by the Cabinet Division, the system may be extended to the SCOM connections, which will discourage the use of unregistered phones.
The DIRBS system was introduced to protect the local manufacturing of mobile devices by imposing duties on imports of mobile sets as well as those brought by travelers coming from abroad. The system also discouraged smuggling, as these sets were not registered with PTA. With the integration of SCOM into the DIRBS system, the use of smuggled phones in GB and AJK will be reduced, and it will help the country generate revenue through the imposition of import duties on smuggled sets.