China's mobile phone users will have to register using their real names starting next year, according to the Ministry of Information Industry (MII).
The new rule will apply not only to new users, but also about 200 million pre-paid cell phone users, Wang Lijian, dean of MII's News Department, said on Sunday.
Currently, half of the country's 400 million cell phone users pre-pay for their mobile service provided by China Mobile and China Unicom. And most are not required to register before buying a new phone number.
Ministry officials said the real-name registration system would help curb the surging number of mobile phone crimes.
Experts say that implementing the real-name system may hit China's mobile telecom operators hard in short term because of fewer new users and increased operational costs.
"The operators will suffer a temporary decrease in the number of consumers and short message services (SMS) as people may not like having to provide their ID cards for a phone number," Xu Junqi, vice-dean with the Policy-Making Institute of the Telecommunications Research Centre under MII, said yesterday.
"The operators also have to invest a lot in updating their technical facilities and service network."
Telecom value-added service providers are also expected to see their profits drop after the new system takes effect.
MII experts participating in drafting the new system said that the system has included provisions to protect the privacy of personal information.
Public reaction last December was almost evenly split. An online survey conducted by Sohu.com found that 44.9 per cent of 1,911 respondents favoured using ID to set up mobile phone accounts, and 42.1 per cent opposed it.
A survey conducted by China Central Television in September 2005 showed that 88 percent of the 12,522 respondents said they had received illegal text messages such as fake notices of winning prizes, pornographic information and ads for fake diplomas and illegal firearms.