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Can Bangladesh stop torrent of illegal phones?

  • Published at 10:53 am March 10th, 2019

Meanwhile, about 27.6 million handsets are imported legally every year

Stopping the illegal import of mobile phones has become a major challenge for Bangladesh’s policymakers, as it is depriving the country of a staggering Tk1,200 crore in revenue every year.

According to mobile phone importers, about 2.5 million handsets, worth around Tk3,000 crore, are brought in illegally every year.

The Bangladesh Mobile Phone Importers' Association (BMPIA) said most of the illegal imports are refurbished Apple, Samsung and Xiaomi products.

At least 30% of the country's Tk10,000 crore handset market is dominated by illegally imported phones, BMPIA reveals.

Meanwhile, about 27.6 million handsets are imported legally every year.

Sources from the Bangladesh Telecommunication and Regulatory Commission (BTRC) said 25% to 30% of the handsets used by consumers are illegal. However, a closer look at the market reveals that 75% of it is dominated by feature phones.

BMPIA said the budget announcement caused a rise in illegal imports that are coming through Dhaka and Chittagong airports and various other ports.

"Failing to prevent illegal imports will only discourage legal importers, and the government will continue to lose revenue," it warned.

'The last hope'

Last year, the government approved the production and assembly of mobile parts in the country. But assemblers need to pay about 15% to 17% tax to import parts, and the lack of government policy support is holding them back against illegally imported phones.

Only two companies, Walton and Samsung, are producing smartphones in Bangladesh, while 94% of India's demand is met by locally produced handsets.

There are an estimated 155.8 million mobile phone users, BTRC data show. Last year saw the import of about 34.4 million phones.

Meanwhile BTRC, with BMPIA's financial support, launched NOC Automation and IMEI Database (NAID) services to prevent the import of illegal cell phones.

BTRC has already set up an IMEI database of handsets legally imported since January 2018.

"Around 60% of the handsets in market have been added to the IMEI server," former BTRC chief Brig Gen Nasim Pervez said.

ICT Minister Mustafa Jabbar said NAID will enable NRB and BTRC to easily identify illegal phones.

The legality of the handsets can be checked by sending an SMS with the IMEI number to 16002. A return SMS will inform users whether their mobile phones were imported through legal channels.

Users will be able to lock their stolen phones if their IMEI numbers are included in the databank.

BMPIA President Ruhul Alam Al Mahbub said it would be possible to start the database in December. "It'll help stop illegal imports," he added.

BTRC chief Jahurul Haque is optimistic. "Government revenue will rise by a huge margin and it will stop illegal imports. The theft of mobile phones will also stop," he said.