SIM card makers to offer expert advice on Equity case

Mr Francis Wangusi, the Communications Authority director-general. Photo/FILE
Mr Francis Wangusi, the Communications Authority director-general. Photo/FILE 

The Communications Authority (CA) will seek expert advice from manufacturers of mobile phone SIM cards in deciding a case filed by Safaricom challenging Equity Bank’s intended use of embedded cards to roll out its own mobile banking and cash transfer service.

CA director-general Francis Wangusi said the regulator will seek to establish whether use of the ultra slim phone cards, which ride on mobile phone subscribers’ primary SIM cards, poses potential security threats.

Mr Wangusi said in an interview Wednesday the CA also plans to meet with Safaricom, which is seeking an order barring Equity Bank from rolling out the mobile banking service.

“We have received the letter from Safaricom. We are going to find out from them what security threats using such a technology poses, talk to SIM card manufacturers and also look at industry best practices before we make our ruling,” said Mr Wangusi. 


Equity had intended to launch the SIM technology later this month through its subsidiary Finserve.

Mr Wangusi said that it was premature to comment on whether Safaricom had a case or not, adding that CA would also have to carry out research to get the best global practices on where the technology has worked or is being used.

“It is very premature to comment on the likely decision that the authority will take,” he added.

In a letter dated June 26, Safaricom CEO Bob Collymore wants Finserve to be prohibited from issuing thin SIM cards arguing the move could expose subscribers to financial fraud and intercepted communication.

The SIM card in contention is paper-thin and embedded with a chip. Users overlay it on their primary SIM card, regardless of the network, and can subsequently receive services from two mobile service providers simultaneously.

Its use means Equity Bank does not have to issue its own SIM cards but could ride on existing ones.

“It is clear that with the thin SIM’s capability no single operator can guarantee the privacy of communication between the handset and SIM cards,” reads part of the letter signed by Mr Collymore.

“The thin SIM is designed to attack the most essential component of the SIM card,” it added. 

Finserve Africa Ltd was in April granted an MVNO licence alongside Mobile Pay Ltd and Zioncell. Equity plans to use the Finserve licence to roll out mobile banking services independent of any operator.