China's bid to further clamp down on user anonymity kicks off today with the implementation of real-name registration for new prepaid mobile subscriptions. The move, an analyst noted, may reduce new sign-ups in the short term but provide greater clarity of actual subscriber figures in the long run.
According to various media reports, citizens need to submit a copy of their identity (ID) cards when purchasing a SIM card while foreigners are required to register with their passports or ID cards. The move is said to be the government's approach to combat spam and fraud via a mobile connection.
Bryan Wang, Springboard Research's associate vice president for Asia-Pacific connectivity and China research, told ZDNet Asia that as a result of the initiative, a slowdown in new subscriber additions may be expected in the short term.
The reason for this, he explained in an e-mail, is because many news stands are not able to sell prepaid SIM cards, which limits the reach of the cards.
A report from China-based news portal People's Daily Online noted the move to stop kiosk owners from selling prepaid phone cards is "temporary" and suggested that it was to instruct owners on how to register new subscribers.
Over in Beijing, the capital city's newspaper stand management company has called on news kiosks to stop selling SIM cards of China Mobile and China Telecom from Sep. 1, Marbridge Consulting said in a brief report. SIM cards from China Unicom are expected to be on sale, but news stand vendors will be responsible for "collecting genuine photocopies of customers' national ID cards and registering them with the mobile real name system", the market analyst firm added.
Already, there are grumblings from the ground on the new regulation. One kiosk owner named Liu, who sells about 20 phone cards a day, was quoted in the People's Daily report saying that the new rules will have an impact on her business. "I am not sure about the effects of the policy, but I think it will definitely hurt business," she noted.
As for the government's three-year timeframe for existing prepaid mobile subscribers to register their credentials, Springboard's Wang said the analyst firm does not expect many of such users to register with the operators. This is especially the case for subscribers who have multiple SIM cards. According to Wang, at least 50 percent of the current 800 million subscribers are not registered.
Concern over the leakage of personal information is another reason deterring existing subscribers from registering with the operators, he added. Users, he noted, may also be wary of "tighter control from the government to monitor their calls, SMSes or data usage", contributing to a lengthy registration process.
However, the new policy "also brings an opportunity for operators to clear some unused numbers" or sort out situations of multiple SIM cards, Wang pointed out. This will allow operators and the government to have a more accurate number for actual subscribers in the country, he said.
The mandate to use real-name registration for mobile subscriptions follows a similar move initiated last month which required Internet users to provide real credentials in order to participate in online game sessions.