December 28, 2022
MANILA – Prepaid mobile subscribers, the overwhelming majority of cell phone users in the country, struggled with technical difficulties on the first day of the registration of SIM (subscriber identity module) cards as the online portals of telecommunications companies often became inaccessible due to a surge in applicants on Tuesday.
The SIM Card Registration Act requires all SIM cards to be registered by April 26, 2023, with a possible extension of another 120 days, otherwise subscribers would be unable to make calls, send text messages or conduct online transactions on their cell phones and other mobile gadgets.
Samuel Cabbuag, an assistant professor and a resident of Makati City, told the Inquirer he tried accessing the registration website of Smart Communications Inc. at around 7:30 a.m. but it was down.
He double-checked Smart’s official social media pages but the link provided still did not lead him to a functioning site.
Cabbuag, who teaches sociology at the University of the Philippines, tried a couple more times before finally landing on a working portal, but he ran into another problem—obtaining a one-time PIN (personal identification number)—which he was able to hurdle.
When it was time to upload an image of his identification card close to the end of the process, an error appeared.
“I was annoyed,” he said.
Globe Telecom Inc. subscriber Mariel Amparo, a public school teacher in Quezon City, became frustrated after trying to register seven times.
Amparo said that Globe’s portals were down when she tried to log in. There were times when she was able to access the sites but a system error prevented her from completing the registration.
“I will be busy with work in the coming days so I really want to register my SIM cards during the holidays,” she told the Inquirer.
Such technical issues were expected during the first two weeks of registration before the process is fine-tuned by the public telecommunications entities (PTEs), according to Undersecretary Anna Mae Lamentillo of the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT).
Lamentillo earlier said that up to 180 million mobile SIM cards are expected to be registered.
Some subscribers have multiple SIM cards from the same telco or from competing companies.
Currently, Globe has a mobile subscriber base of 87.9 million; Smart, 67.99 million; and Dito Telecommunity, 15 million.
The DICT on Tuesday set up a 24/7 complaints hotline to be handled by its Cybercrime Investigation and Coordinating Center (with phone No. 1326). It will receive complaints from registrants and their suggestions to improve the process.
Globe and Smart on Tuesday issued statements acknowledging the technical problems due to the large number of registrants.
“Our technical team is working on increasing capacity,” Smart said in a statement to the Inquirer. “Our overall assessment is we had a better than expected experience for the first day and we were able to stress-test our portal.”
Globe reported that its registration site was accessible between 4 a.m. and 7 a.m. on Tuesday but went offline thereafter.
“Rest assured that we are optimizing our systems to give you a better registration experience,” said Yoly Crisanto, chief of sustainability and corporate communications at Globe.
Globe reported that at least 20,000 subscribers were able to register before it went offline.
In a statement on Tuesday evening, it advised new SIM card users to visit its registration site within 72 hours as it implemented “system fixes.”
Smart declined to give the number of successful registrations on the first day.
DITO, the smaller of the three telcos, said its first day was “generally smooth.” Over 200,000 subscribers successfully accomplished registration as of 3 p.m. on Tuesday.
Adel Tamano, DITO chief administrative officer, said it took an average of four minutes to complete the process, based on their internal tests.
Infrawatch PH convener Terry Ridon said the glitches on the first day of registration called for an extension of the April 26 deadline.
“Subscribers of the country’s leading telcos experienced technical difficulties in accessing their network’s registration platforms. This is expected, given the very large volume of leading telco subscribers,” he added.
Digital advocacy network Digital Pinoys suggested setting up manual registration sites, especially in rural areas.
“They can also put these in urban centers where people congregate such as malls, transport terminals to help decongest the traffic in online registration portals,” the group said in a statement to the Inquirer.
The process was simpler and quicker for postpaid SIM card owners.
Smart postpaid subscribers just needed to confirm their registration by sending a text saying “YES” to 5858.
Globe informed its postpaid subscribers that the data they had provided when they opened their accounts were already included in its registration platform.
Make it easy
Sen. Grace Poe, chair of the Senate committee on public services who helped push passage of the law, reiterated her call on government agencies and telcos to ensure that the registration would be a “convenient, secure and easy experience.”
“SIM registration should be as easy as texting or sending a message,” Poe said.
“Telcos should have portals for registration that are user-friendly and secure to encourage mobile users to enlist without hassle and interruption of services,” she added.
Poe said that the registration system should also help people who need assistance in registration such as persons with disabilities, senior citizens and those without internet access.
There must be a “massive and constant information drive” to encourage registration to assure subscribers that their personal data were safe, the senator said.
Rep. Ron Salo, chair of the overseas workers affairs panel of the House of Representatives, said the public should be commended for their enthusiasm in complying with the SIM card registration law.
“It just shows our citizens are law-abiding and they support our government’s initiative for an orderly society,” he said in a statement on Tuesday.
Salo pressed the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) and PTEs to make the registration process “as seamless as possible to make it much easier for our citizens to comply with the law.”
Camarines Sur Rep. Luis Raymund Villafuerte Jr. said the NTC and the DICT should have an “ultrasafe” cybersecurity system in place to prevent any breach of the subscribers’ database, and to stop PTEs and other groups from exploiting it for telemarketing and other purposes.
“The DICT and NTC should be 100 percent confident that by the time our subscribers have registered their SIM cards, the would-be national database is truly foolproof against attacks,” Villafuerte said.
Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian reminded the public to be wary of online scams taking advantage of the SIM card registration frenzy.
He said some people might be victimized into giving up their personal information through one such scheme which had mimicked the GCash app to get sensitive data, including usernames and passwords, to steal money from people’s e-wallets.