Dealers in mobile phones with poor battery performance face jail terms and substantial fines under proposed laws aimed at eliminating sub-standard products from the market.
Draft regulations published Wednesday by the Communications Authority of Kenya (CA) provide for a three-year jail term or a Sh300,000 fine or both for anyone found importing or selling a mobile phone with a battery life of less than eight talk hours.
The regulator says that the battery for a mobile cellular device should offer at least eight hours talk-time and 24 hours’ standby time.
“The regulations are geared at protecting consumer interests and promoting the quality of service provided by network operators,” CA acting director general Mercy Wanjau told the Business Daily in an interview.
“In the event that non-compliant devices are submitted for type-approval, the Authority shall decline providing the requisite authorisation for importation of such equipment into the Kenyan market.”
This marks the latest attempt by the regulator to address quality issues in the fast-growing telephony market. The last major crackdown on sub-standard mobile phone products was in 2012 where thousands of handsets were switched off for lacking authentic International Mobile Equipment Identity (IMEI) numbers -- the unique identifier for each phone.
Kenya is a large market for mobile phone producers, with official data showing that telecommunications equipment worth Sh26 billion, including mobile devices, were imported into the country in 2019. Overall mobile subscriptions in Kenya grew by 4.9 percent to 59.84 million in the period to September last year, underlining the fast growth of the sector.
But with the huge demand comes a challenge of illegal trade. According to the Anti-Counterfeit Agency (ACA), nearly 75 percent of Kenyans used counterfeit goods in 2019. The agency estimates that about one in five products sold in major towns in the country is counterfeit. Mobile phones are the most counterfeited goods in the country, accounting for half of those goods sold.
To many smartphone users, battery life is an important factor in choosing a device.
But counterfeit phones, especially with low battery life, are prevalent in Kenya as manufacturers seek to tap huge demand for pocket-friendly smartphones in a market where feature phones are still widely used.
Manufacturers say thinner bodies, brighter screens, faster processors, more background software, and speedier Internet connections all take their toll on phone batteries, but they are also incorporating more powerful batteries.
Some of the world’s largest smartphone makers, especially from Asia, have recently intensified their scramble for a slice of one of the fastest-growing device markets in the region.
The CA aims to block fraudsters from cashing in on the demand.
“A mobile cellular device shall be fitted with a suitable and appropriate power supply cord and mains plug that meets the standards established by the regulatory body in charge of electricity in Kenya,” the draft Kenya Information and Communications (Importation, Type Approval And Distribution Of Communications Equipment) Regulations, 2010 says.
Consumer lobbies yesterday welcomed the CA’s crackdown on mobile phones with defective batteries.
“Part of the challenge is that most of the batteries of such phones do not retain power for long,” said Stephen Mutoro, secretary-general of Consumers Federation of Kenya (Cofek).
“This is a nightmare to a majority of consumers who have to charge their phones for long, in the process spending more time on charging as well as not being able to move with their phones. CA needs to liaise with the Kenya Revenue Authority, the Kenya Bureau of Standards and the Kenya Ports Authority to block further flooding if the Kenyan market with fake phones and especially those with bad batteries.”
The CA regulations also require manufacturers to print their brand or identification mark and model or type on the mobile phones in indelible ink, which is readily visible and legible.
The regulator also wants all mobile phones to comply with global radiation safety standards to protect the health of consumers.
The crackdown on substandard phone could boost the country’s revenue performances. Estimates point to a loss of Sh200 billion every year, in potential government revenue as a result of dealing in illicit goods.
Kenya lost Sh103 billion in revenue from illicit trade in 2018 despite renewed efforts to curb the practice, the National Baseline Survey on counterfeits and other forms of illicit trade in Kenya by the ACA showed.