A retailer of the state-owned Teletalk activated 14 SIM (subscriber identity module) cards through biometric registration against a single subscriber in merely 24 hours. Among the cards, 13 were holding the same serial number or ICCID. One of the cards was registered after midnight (3:18 am). The SIM cards were used in the illegal VoIP (voice over internet protocol) business.
A recent probe by Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC) revealed that Teletalk was facilitating the illegal VoIP business in various ways. BTRC found that some retailers were selling SIM cards with the help of Teletalk staff, violating rules. Teletalk staff, without any instructions, deactivated the SIM cards one day after a BTRC-led drive seized those. Teletalk even did not implement the rules for checking call termination.
The BTRC investigation was launched after a team of Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) and BTRC seized 3,400 Teletalk SIM cards and VoIP equipment from New Market, Turag and Shah Ali of Mirpur area in Dhaka on 3 February. Three VoIP service providers were also arrested in that drive.
The seizure led the post and telecommunication ministry to launch a probe. Later, a probe report was prepared upon inspections at Teletalk Network Operation Centre during 23 and 23 March.
On this context, post and telecommunication minister Mustafa Jabbar told Prothom Alo Tuesday that an administrative investigation would be launched regarding the BTRC probe. Action would be taken if anyone is found guilty. The ministry would not tolerate such of the irregularities in any of its wings.
BTRC identified unlawful involvement of Teletalk staff in the illegal VoIP business and weakness in SIM card distribution. Its probe found selling of the seized SIM cards to a single subscriber by a single retailer and activation (biometric registration) of several SIM cards against a lone IMEI (International Mobile Equipment Identity) holder, very suspicious.
According to the BTRC probe body, retailing more than one SIM cards with a similar ICCID in favour of single IMEI or NID would have been impossible without direct or indirect assistances by the staff at Teletalk’s sales, distribution and CRM division and its system operation division.
While asked, Teletalk regulatory division manager SM Lutfullahil Mozid questioned BTRC’s probe. He said that activation of 3,400 SIM cards against 1,445 subscribers–instead of a few ones–would not have possible if Teletalk staff were involved.
A single subscriber would need at least three hours to get registered for the second SIM card. Then how would a subscriber got registration of 14 SIM cards in 24 hours? Replying to this question, Lutfullahil termed BTRC’s explanation as wrong. He said biometric registration of a Teletalk SIM is possible even it is done at midnight.
BTRC probe body found biometric registration of a single subscriber of 14 SIM cards at a single retailing point in 24 hours unrealistic. The whole process supported activation of fake SIM cards. In that case, involvement of the relevant department of Teletalk and the role of the retailer was doubtful. The probe body recommended that in-depth investigation is required to trace the way of inserting a subscriber’s biometric documents in the ‘activation’ app for more than once registration.
Moreover, the probe body observed that deactivating a seized SIM card without instructions might be done by Teletalk staff to help destroy previous records.
BTRC vice chairman Subrata Roy Maitra told Prothom Alo that the probe report was submitted to the concerned ministry.
The state-owned telecommunication operator Teletalk hit the market in 2004. However, Teletalk holds the lowest share in the market with only six million among the 176.4 million users of active SIM cards in Bangladesh.
Teletalk’s alleged involvement in the illegal VoIP business is not a new phenomenon.
During 2019-20 fiscal, BTRC conducted 21 drives against the illegal VoIP and seized 11,802 SIM cards. Three-fourth of the cards was of Teletalk.
BTRC probe found Teletalk’s biometric registration process faulty as it allows activation of SIM from anywhere in the country without preserving records of area-wise retailing.
According to RAB officials, the illegal VoIP racket being caught during the drive at New Market, Turag and Shah Ali areas could terminate approximately 600,000 international calls every day, evading revenue of around Tk 110 million a year.
RAB-10 commander and additional DIG Mahfuzur Rahman told Prothom Alo that investigation on the case filed regarding the seizure and arrest is underway. After the investigation, a charge sheet against the accused persons will be submitted.
* – Sadiqur Rahman.