A Bulawayo based programmer got himself in trouble after successfully developing a system that allows Zimbabweans to make free international phone calls, escaping a jail term with a whisker at a $400 fine tag.
As unemployment continues to rise in Zimbabwe many people have resorted to self-employment as a means of survival and a young man by the name Velaphi Hlabangani from Bulawayo is not an exceptional as he came up with an illegal system of making international calls free of charge via self-assembled sim-box equipment.
They say necessity is the mother of invention but for Velaphi Hlabangani it is the mother of hacking as he overstepped his boundaries when he designed a system that can bleed local mobile operators financially as the service comes with no charges to the user but directs the charges to the service providers.
By Tongai Mwenje
According to The Chronicle, the communication wizard from Bulawayo set up a fully-equipped mobile phone “call centre” with 164 sim-cards in his house where he would make international calls free of charge, a magistrate heard. Police raided 31-year-old Velaphi Hlabangani at his rented home in Suburbs and recovered 98 Net-One lines, 36 Telecel ones and 30 Econet 3G lines — all operational and fitted to an IP-PBX system.
Prosecutors say Hlabangani by-passed Econet Wireless’ central system as he re-routed his equipment to go via self-assembled sim-box equipment and would make international calls through the mobile operator’s network.
The unemployed youth would tamper with the Econet network which enabled him to make international calls that were routed as local calls without charging.
The system that he set up ensured that his mobile numbers were hidden from mobile operators.
The court could not readily establish how much money Hlabangani defrauded Econet through his adventure.
Hlabangani admitted that he was operating an IP-PBX system without a licence in violation of the Post and Telecommunications Act, when he appeared before magistrate Sibongile Msipa yesterday.
It could also not be ascertained how long he had been operating the sim-box equipment but Econet technicians observed that an unknown source had infiltrated their system last month, prosecutors said.
“On May 20, 2014, Econet technicians observed that there were international traffic calls coming through the mobile operator’s network and re-routed to go via sim-box equipment and then terminated on Econet, by-passing the normal route used by Econet,” said prosecutor Denmore Kasenza.
He said the operator engaged the police after international investigations tracked the calls to Hlabangani’s sim-box at his house and found the sim-cards configured in the unregistered equipment.
Some of the highly technical equipment that the 31-year-old used include two media sim-boxes, 16 mobile antennas, a 3 Cisko link system with E2500 and four port router, a complete computer set, a laptop with hypermedia management software and a mobile satellite.
Msipa convicted Hlabangani on his own plea of guilty.
She, however, said despite the seriousness of the crime, Hlabangani could not be sent to jail as that would harden him as a criminal.
“This is a serious offence and a deterrent sentence is called for to deter would-be offenders. Imprisonment is however, not suitable for first offender who pleaded guilty and if he is sent to prison he would come back a hardened criminal who could be a burden to the society.
Therefore, a fine is suitable for him,” said magistrate Msipa.
She fined Hlabangani $400 with an option of jailing him for four months if he fails to pay the fine.
In addition, all the equipment was forfeited to the State.
Innocent Mafirakureva represented Hlabangani.