The Communications Commission of Kenya has defended its decision asking mobile operators to switch off counterfeit handsets, citing rising crime and terrorism as the main reasons.

CCK has invited mobile operators and manufacturers to a consultative process on phasing out counterfeit mobile phones, a move that has drawn criticism from consumers.

"The decision to phase out use of counterfeit mobile phones should be seen as a way of protecting consumers rather than punishing them," said Francis Wangusi, CCK acting director general, at a press conference.

Kenya is following a global move by other governments to put in place mechanisms to phase out counterfeit handsets to improve security and deal with terrorism, Wangusi said.

According to CCK, counterfeit handsets have duplicated or tampered with International Mobile Equipment Identity numbers, making it difficult for Equipment Identification Registries to trace them and hard for law enforcement to trace criminals.

"In Kenya, security of mobile handsets is paramount given the high uptake of m-payment and m-transactions. It is important that the medium of mobile money transactions is secure and reliable," added Wangusi.

However, the Consumers Federation of Kenya has faulted the move by CCK, saying that original handset manufacturers should explore ways to compete with cost and features provided by the counterfeit handsets and work with government agencies to counter importation of counterfeits.

"What criteria will the CCK and mobile operators use to determine if the handset is counterfeit or not? Consumers paid for the handsets and should not be punished for the failure by government agencies to counter counterfeit handset importation," said Idy Pembere, program officer at Consumers Federation of Kenya.

According to a recent study by CCK released two weeks ago, mobile penetration grew by an average of 31 percent annually from 34 percent in 2007 to 65 percent by June 2011, while mobile subscribers increased from 11 million in 2007 to 25 million in June 2011. Out of the 25 million subscribers, Wangusi said 9.39 percent use counterfeit phones.

"With the government opening data, subscribers are buying affordable phone[s] that have ... Internet capabilities. Manufacturers should explore ways to provide affordable handsets with such capabilities instead of just blocking phones," added Pembere.

Counterfeit handsets have a bigger market share in countries with prepaid subscribers while in countries like South Africa, where operators partner with manufacturers to provide prepaid plans, counterfeit and gray handsets are not as common.