Australian mobile boss lashes out at $179 rival
The boss of the country's third-largest mobile phone company has launched an extraordinary attack on a rival operator he claims is selling cut-price handsets that could pose a health and safety risk - but the competitor says the concerns are "baseless and untrue".
Alcatel Mobile regional managing director Sam Skontos has called on the Australian Communications and Media Authority, which regulates mobile phones and enforces required standards under Australian law, to conduct an audit of Mintt Mobile.
The online retailer earlier this month launched with five smartphones ranging from $179 to $399, having previously operated in Papua New Guinea. Mr Skontos says Mintt has refused to produce the technical testing reports that would prove its devices meet Australian standards.
Specifically, he wants to see Mintt's SAR reports. SAR, or specific absorption rate, measures the absorption rate of electromagnetic energy into the body. In Australia, mobile phones must be under two watts per kilogram.
"It costs me in the order of $300,000 to $400,000 to make a product compliant to Australian standards, for every model," Mr Skontos said. "As you can imagine, if a product comes in that's not compliant and selling direct online to the consumer, they have an added price advantage."
Mr Skontos added, "We know these guys from PNG, there is a massive difference between the PNG market and the Australian market. If it were as simple as starting a website everyone would do it. I'm not going to spend $300,000 getting a test done on them, but I would hope the authorities do an audit."
Mintt spokesman Murdo McRae said, "We are happy to clear up any misconceptions Alcatel have which are completely baseless. I would add that we are not required to hand out our test reports to a news outlet. Only to ACMA if requested. This kind of baseless accusation is inflammatory and completely untrue."
Mr McRae said "these days overseas testing is allowed" under Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Telecommunications Working Group Mutual Recognition Arrangement between China and Australia.
Under the current regime, ACMA does not certify mobile phones prior to sale. Rather, suppliers are required to label the handset with a Regulatory Compliance Mark (RCM) and register on a national supplier database.
ACMA periodically audits mobile phone suppliers to test their compliance - the last audit was conducted the 2017-18 financial year. Mintt Mobile has not been audited by ACMA as it only began operating this month.
"All our phones have the RCM and CE approval and we are in possession of all test documents including SAR test reports," Mr McRae said. "I might add our SAR results are far under the statutory requirements for Australia. All products currently available in Australia are registered on the (Electrical Regulatory Authorities Council) database."
That hasn't satisfied Mr Skontos, who says SAR values for Mintt phones are not available anywhere - on the phone, packaging, user guide, warranty card, on the Mintt website or other online resources that list SAR values of common models such as the Mobile Manufacturers Forum.
"They don't publish their SAR values anywhere, so someone buying this product has no idea what electromagnetic energy is coming in," he said. "If ACMA can find the SAR values, I would personally be interested as a consumer who has just purchased the mobile phone to know the values."
Mr Skontos said the current "self-declaration of conformity" system was a "crazy loophole". "Anyone can register as a responsible supplier, pay your annual fee and you're on the list," he said. "We've got a whole folder full of forms, a whole bunch of reports that just sit there, in case we get audited we pull them down."
With the rise of foreign retailers shipping phones from overseas, he estimates that between 100,000 to 200,000 non-compliant phones are entering Australia each year, creating a minefield of legal and safety issues.
"In the overall scheme of things when there are around eight million phones sold in Australia every year it's not huge, but (it's) a couple of hundred thousand phones out there not compliant that could cause electrical safety issues," he said.
"When a consumer buys a phone from a carrier it is 100 per cent compliant, no problem. The biggest concern we have from an industry perspective is the online guys."
He noted that if a consumer purchased a phone from China and had it shipped to Australia, they were legally the importer. "If your charger causes a fire to your house, would your insurance company cover you?" he said.
"If you're using a non-compliant phone and it catches fire and half your face burns, who's to blame? The compliance side of things is overlooked because it's not a very sexy topic but it's critical."
In a statement, an ACMA spokesman said the regulator "does not certify mobile phone handsets or other devices for the Australian market".
"Regulations imposed by the ACMA require suppliers of mobile phone handsets to ensure products comply with all applicable Australian standards, label the handset with the Regulatory Compliance Mark and to register on the national supplier database," he said.
"The national supplier database currently lists Mintt Australia Pty Ltd as a registered supplier. Testing of products can be undertaken overseas if the testing is performed by a laboratory accredited under the Internal Laboratory Accreditation Co-operation for the relevant Australian standard."
He added, "The ACMA also investigates reports of non-compliant devices being sold in Australia. Convictions for supplying non-compliant products in Australian include penalties of up to $25,000 for individual and $315,000 for companies. Reports of non-compliant devices being sold in Australia can be made at the ACMA website."