Microsoft is speaking out publicly to push African government officials to step up efforts to halt the influx of cheap, counterfeit handsets coming into the region from Asia.
The counterfeit devices, typically carrying logos of brand-name companies, are taking a significant portion of the phone market away from legitimate manufacturers, according to David Efanga, manager Nokia Care Service Channel West and Central Africa. Microsoft this year closed its deal to acquire phone maker Nokia.
"Microsoft is in talks with government agencies to ensure that importation of counterfeit phones is controlled," Efanga said in an interview.
On Sept. 6, Efanga spoke publicly about the issue in a media briefing in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, in Nigeria. The briefing coincided with the opening of two after-sale service centers for West Africa, located in Rivers State and Aba State in Nigeria. The centers, among other things, provide Web services to allow customers to obtain information about their phone online.
Microsoft wants a halt to imports of counterfeit handsets because are were chewing into the company's business, Efanga said.
Most of the phones coming from China into Africa are not licensed by the governments in the region and reportedly use smuggled chips. They carry no verification from China's Ministry of Industries and Information and have fake International Mobile Equipment Identity (IMEI) codes.
In Nigeria, Africa's largest telecom market by subscription and investment, there are more than 12.5 million counterfeit mobile handsets currently in use, according to government officials.
Efanga said Microsoft wants the Standards Organization of Nigeria and other organizations in West Africa responsible for standardization of imported products to monitor what is being brought into the country and ensure that fake handset products are blocked.
However, the standards organization of Nigeria has already announced that plans are under way to render counterfeit handsets useless by detecting the devices' IMEI number via network infrastructure monitoring tools, and blocking their access to the country's networks. The organization said enforcement will help increase revenue for the Nigerian government through taxes, and boost revenue for legitimate manufacturers.
The plan seems similar to efforts being made by other countries in the region, although the new policies have in most cases not been implemented.
So far, only Kenya has successfully managed to implement a plan to detect and prevent mobile phones from accessing networks in the country. Many other countries including Zambia, Ghana, Zimbabwe and Uganda have failed to implement plans to crack down on counterfeit handsets, despite repeated warnings that they would do so.
The Zambian Information and Communication Technology Authority (ZICTA), the country's telecom sector regulator, has said it is in the process of implementing the plan.
ZICTA head of consumer protection Katwamba Mwansa said, "We are planning to start the registration of IMEI in order to get rid of counterfeit handsets. Handsets with fake IMEI will not be able to access the networks."
Zambia, like many other African countries, has failed to block counterfeit handsets at various points of entry.