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Kenya’s corporate giants Safaricom and Equity Bank have been in battle over a piece of technology unknown to most Kenyans. This is all because of Equity’s plans to introduce paper-thin SIM cards, SIM overlay technology, to help its customers access the bank’s mobile money service without needing to use dual-SIM phones.

SIM overlay technology, sometimes called a “skin SIM”, was pioneered by the Shanghai-based tech company F-Road to meet the demands of Chinese customers who frequently found that their mobile phones were roaming when traveling outside their home province.

The SIM cards consist of 0.1 millimeter thick film that can be layered on an active side of customers’ original SIM cards, without affecting the customers’ original service providers’ network reception. This in turn means Equity customers will not need to migrate to the bank’s mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) by getting new SIM cards or be forced to purchase dual SIM phones.

The SIM cards will be available for free so as to accelerate their penetration into the market and you can see why Safaricom would not be pleased given the collapse of their M-Kesho partnership with the bank. The thin sim technology is also seen as a threat for Safaricom’s M-PESA platform which generates a lot of revenue for the mobile service provider and is a great tool for brand loyalty. Equity Bank had announced that it will charge a maximum of Sh25 for amounts transacted.
According to the statement released by Safaricom they had the followong concerns about the technology:

1. That it has the potential to observe record and divulge mobile user PIN details (including Mobile Banking PINS).
2. That it has the potential to intercept, manipulate and/or destroy Unstructured Supplementary Service Data (USSD) communications.
3. That it has the potential to cause denial of service to existing SIM’s by intercepting, manipulating and/or destroying SIM toolkit instructions.
4. That it has the potential to carry out actions without the explicit permission or knowledge of the mobile user for example monitor calls and SMS.
5. That it has the potential of obtaining unauthorised access to the SIM card and change configuration settings and thus impacting the customer experience adversely.