China will begin requiring prepaid cell phone subscribers to register their devices using their real names in 2006, the country's Minister of Information Industry said Tuesday.
The goal, Wang Xudong told the official Xinhau news agency, is to cut down on surging cell phone spam and fraud, most of it delivered via text messaging.
As in many other countries, China requires real name registration only for subscribers who pay as their service provider bills them. Users of prepaid cell phones do not have to provide any personal information.
Wang estimated that of the 388 million cell phone users, some 200 million will have to register their phones.
Although the registration plan has been in the works for several years -- a pilot program was run in Shanghai in 2003 -- resistance from wireless providers stalled the decision. Cellular service providers claim that they'll be buried under paperwork and that they'll lose business as prepaid customers refuse to register.
"It will be quite difficult for operators to convince their prepaid users to registe8r their names," said Chen Jinqiao, head of the policy research division with the Telecommunications Academy under the Ministry of Information Industry, to Xinhau.
Ministry sources told Xinhau that about 10,000 cell phones had been shut down in 2005 for sending fraudulent, harassing, or erotic text messages.
In mid-November, Thailand introduced compulsory registration for prepaid cell phone as it tried to stymie bombings in the southern part of the country; Thai authorities believe most of the bombings by Islamic militants are triggered by cell phone signals.