The Communications Authority of Kenya (CA) and the Central Bank of Kenya have today announced they have approved the use of thin SIM technology in the country for a one year pilot phase.

This comes months after Communications Authority of Kenya (CA)  licensed three Application Service Providers to offer Mobile Virtual Networks Operators services. The operators had proposed to use this mobile platform to provide various application services, including mobile money transfer.

According to a press statement   read by the Communication Authority of Kenya (CA) chairman Ngene Gituku, the intention of the Authority to license these services is to encourage innovation in the information and communications technology (ICT) sector that will spur competition from various market segments, particularly involving local investors

The expected competition and innovations by the Mobile Virtual Network Operators will provide consumers with varied services and value for their money while at the same time catalyzing economic development in the country.

Already, one of the MVNOs, Finserve Africa Limited, which was issued with an Application Service Provider licence, has expressed its intention to carry out the mobile payment services on its platform, using the latest technology of SIM card, commonly known as thin SIM or overlay SIM.

However,it can be recalled that earlier the use of thin SIM technology in tn the country had been challenged by one Mobile Network Operator, Safaricom, on account that the dual use of the overlay SIM alongside any other on GSM handsets may cause interruption and interception of communication. The operator further claimed that the dual use of overlay SIM may introduce vulnerabilities in the network as well as infringing on intellectual property rights.

The statement also read that the complaint was considered by the Authority in coordination with the Central Bank of Kenya, the regulator of mobile money transfer services. The two regulators engaged both Safaricom Limited and Finserve Kenya Limited for separate hearings on the matter. The two regulators also sought representations from Taisys SIMoME, who is the manufacturer of the thin SIM in question. Opinion on the use of overlay SIM was also sought from GSMA, the association of GSM service providers and manufacturers of various products used in the provision of GSM services. The Authority also bench marked with various standards organizations and regulators , who supported the intended use of the technology in Kenya.

After gathering information on the subject, the two regulators held a stakeholder conference that included participation from Safaricom Limited, Finserve Kenya Limited, Airtel Kenya Limited Orange, Telkom Kenya Limited and Essar Telcom Limited. Others who participated at the forum were the two other MVNOs, GSMA and Taisys among others, at CA Center.

“Following observations were made through this elaborate consultative process the Authority noted that the thin SIM complies with all minimum mandatory international standards pertaining to the manufacturing of the thin SIM and no major complaints and particularly on interception of traffic of the primary SIM card had been reported so far,” said Giuku.

The tests conducted on Taisys thin SIM by China National Computer Quality Supervising Test Center as well as the Bank Card Test Center of China also showed this particular thin SIM complies with applicable ISO and ETSI standards and based on the opinion of GSMA, save for the inherent vulnerabilities of all SIM cards, there are no specific and confirmed vulnerabilities arising from the use of the thin SIM.

Mr. Gituku also added that it is through the outcome of the investigation, and findings on the subject that the Board of Directors of the Communications Authority of Kenya  decided as was no sufficient evidence to block in the Kenyan market to the entry of the thin SIM adding that the Authority will allow the use of thin SIM technology under strict observation for a period of one year. During this period, only Taisys’ SIMoME thin SIM will operate in the Kenyan market.
“The Authority has also began the process of hiring an internationally reputable firm to conduct a security audit on all SIM cards, and in particular the use of the thin SIM in mobile transfer services, and recommend a framework for regulating the use of SIM card in Kenya during this period. During the one year testing period, if any vulnerability is discovered from the use of Taisys thin SIM card, then operations of the SIM card in the Kenyan market will cease forthwith pending the final recommendations from the security report,” read the statement.

Moreover, operators intending to use the thin SIM for mobile money transfer must obtain authorization from the Central Bank of Kenya.

“The Board of the Authority recognizes the importance of mobile platforms, including payment systems to be robust enough to guarantee security and sufficiently flexible to allow for seamless interconnectivity with other services within the sector. In so doing the Authority encourages innovation by market players in the industry for the benefit of Kenyans,” concluded Gituku.


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