Ghana: NCA to regulate short codes, license MVNOs

NCA-logo-ftsource Ghana Web

The National Communication Authority (NCA) will soon take full control of issuing and regulating short codes to ensure harmonization and sanity in the use of short codes in the country.

NCA said it had observed the grave disparity and rampant abuse of short codes on the various networks, and it want to stamp its authority to ensuring sanity, adding that there is also the need to harmonize the various short codes used on various networks for checking and recharging airtime, reaching customer service, and for calling essential services like the police among others.

The NCA announced this at an interaction with journalists to familiarize the media with the operations of the NCA.

Principal Manager at the NCA, Kwame Baah Acheamfuor told journalists all phone numbers, including short codes are owned by the state of Ghana but were given out to the various telcos to hold in trust of the people, but with the abuse and confusion in the use of short codes “we want to bring them back home.”

He explained that the disparity in the short codes used for recharging or checking airtime on the various networks tend to be confusing for users, particularly under mobile number portability (MNP), where people port to other networks and have to master different codes.

On MTN the code for checking airtime in 124, and for recharging is 125; on Vodafone, the checking code is 122, while recharging code is 123; on Airtel the checking code is 133 and 134 is for recharging; on Tigo it is 820 for checking and 842 for loading; Expresso is *01 for checking and *77, and Glo is 124 for checking and 123 for loading.

Meanwhile all the telcos also have different short codes for reaching customers service and equally different ones for reaching police, plus a lot more for various activities.

But Kwame Baah Acheamfuor said once the NCA takes over the issuing and regulation of short codes, it would harmonize all the codes such that no matter which network one is on, the short code for checking airtime, recharging, customer service, reaching police, and other essential services would be the same.

He said the NCA would also harmonized short codes for nationwide promotions on all networks, and also stop the situation where various telcos use same short code like “1402” for different purposes.

“Besides harmonizing the short codes on all networks the regulation would also stop the situation where people receive unsubscribed messages from unknown sources on their phones at mid-night and sometimes get charged for messages they did not subscribe to,” he said.

Kwame Baah Acheamfuor said the NCA is working together with the telcos and the content providers plus aggregators and Wireless Application Service Providers (WASPs) to iron out the modalities for operating short codes for promotions, bulk SMS and other purposes in the country.

Some industry experts have argued that the telcos invest heavily in acquiring SMS-GW’s (short message service gateways) which they use to run the short codes, so the NCA cannot compel any telco to activate any short codes it issues, if the telcos think they will not get profit from the operations of the short code.

But Kwame Baah Acheamfuor noted that under the interconnectivity regime between the telcos, each of them are obliged to activate any short code that the NCA issues, once it is legally and properly issued to any content provider, aggregator or WASP based on laid-down guidelines to which the telcos would be signatories.

Meanwhile, Adom Business has also gathered that under the new regulation for short codes, the NCA is planning to mumble-jumble all the content providers, aggregators and WASPs into one group and charge all of them $5,000 every year for their operations of short codes and other things.

But some of the players in the that industry are concerned that it would kill the start ups in the industry, so the NCA should separate the aggregators from the small content providers to allow the promising start ups some space to grow.

Meanwhile, members of the Wireless Applications Service Providers Association of Ghana (WASPAG) have welcomed the move by the NCA to regulate short codes, saying it would give a legal and regulatory backing to WASPAG’s own fight against the way some use short codes to abuse customers rights.

In a related development, the NCA is also preparing to start issuing licenses for mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs) from next year.

MVNOs are telecom service providers, which do not have spectrum but buy airtime from the original mobile network operators (MNOs) to provide telecoms service using either their own branded SIM cards or the same SIM cards as the MNOs.

Deputy Director of Regulator Administration at the NCA, Patrick Laryea told ADOMBUSINESS under that arrangement would require the MVNO to negotiate with the telcos for airtime and space.

He said there would be clearly spelt out quality of service guidelines that the MNOs must meet to ensure that the MVNOs provide quality service.

“If there is a breach on the part of the MNO and it affects the customers of the MNVO, the MNO would face the consequence, but if there is evidence to show the MNO met its obligations to the MVNO and the latter failed to provide quality service to its customers then the MVNO would be held liable,” he said.

Ahead of the NCA’s licenses for MVNOs Alltel started an MVNO data service on the Tigo network but the NCA said that service has been suspended until the formal license is issued next year.

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