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Bangladesh cuts off anonymous handsets

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Mobile operators in Bangladesh this week cut off more than a million connections to customers who bought their SIMs anonymously, despite the fact that doing so was completely legal at the time.

Operators have already got the deadline extended twice, giving users more time to let the operators know their identity, but the Bangladesh Telecommunications Regulatory Commission stood firm and the process of disconnecting the anonymous users was started last night.

The Swiss were the first to sell blister-packed mobiles, complete with a couple of AA batteries, off the shelf without filling in paper work or proving one's identity. The creation of pre-pay systems, removing the need for credit checks, allowed anyone to buy a mobile phone anonymously and use it with impunity, much to the annoyance of law-enforcement agencies around the world.

Most countries have tried to impose some sort of control on the anonymous mobile phone. In countries where national ID cards are used production of such a card is de rigueur, elsewhere some proof of identity is often asked for, though in the UK the motivation is generally commercial.

Pre-paid connections are still rewarded by the operator: the shop will get fifty quid or so for every pre-paid connection they sell. The exact amount varies, and will be less if they can't pass your identity on to the operator.

The operator desperately wants to know who you are, so they can sell you more stuff, and work out the kind of stuff you might buy. They also have more legitimate worries about content filtering for kids and so forth.

So operators want anonymous phones to rapidly develop a market, get lots of handsets out and in use, but then they'd like everyone to register their phones with the operators so they can sell them stuff more effectively.

In Bangladesh it was all going swimmingly, with anonymous phones pushing penetration up (currently just over 40 million - around 25 per cent of the population), and the regulator kindly insisting punters register, for security reasons of course. Unfortunately more than a million customers didn't bother, and now the operators have been forced to cut them off – not really part of the plan. ®

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