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ICH To Give Value To VAS Players, Stem Airtime Vanishing

Ghana's solely-licensed Interconnect Clearinghouse (ICH), Afriwave Telecom says it is now set to give value to mobile value-added service (VAS) providers who work with telcos to provide subscription-based services to Ghanaians.

Afriwave is mandated by its license and by law to, among other things, deploy content delivery networks and telecom VAS platforms for authorized VAS providers in Ghana. This is to provide a single point of access for VAS providers into the telecom ecosystem and also facilitate revenue reconciliation between them and the telcos.

In that regard, Afriwave recently added a more sophisticated state-of-the-art data center through a strategic partnership with Ghana's second Internet Exchange Point (IXP) host, ONIX, who now hosts Afriwave's US$38 million infrastructure, set to provide full connectivity, Cloud and VAS into the Ghanaian and regional market.

This, according to Afriwave, has put the ICH in a strong position to carry all the VAS traffic in addition to the 100% voice and SMS interconnect traffic it currently carries between all telcos in the country.

Afriwave said it is set to also make life easier for the VAS players by eliminating the stress of having to go from one telco to the other to activate licensed short codes for a VAS service.

"They can now come to us and we will get all the telcos to activate the short codes and then the VAS player can connect from the ICH and provide services to subscribers of all the telcos via the ICH," they said.

Again, the ICH promises to address the revenue reconciliation challenges between VAS players and the telcos, leveraging the experience and expertise it has built in managing the interconnect revenue reconciliation between telcos themselves.
"So, with the ICH, you kill two birds with one stone - you get easy and stress free access to all telcos at a single point, and you also get the revenue reconciliation concerns addressed," the company said in a statement copied to TechGh24.

Value for Subscribers
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78-year-old Emelia Botchwey found VUCLIP GAMES activated on her phone and she lost over GHS40 to it
Meanwhile, there is an added value for subscribers as well, particularly with regards to the seeking their express consent for VAS subscription.

There have alleged remote signing on of subscribers to VAS services, which then lead to heavy airtime loss on the blind side of the subscribers.

But an industry expert has said that the ICH can cure that problem provided the ICH law, Electronic Communications Amendment Act, 2016, Act 910 is fully implemented to enjoin all VAS providers to route their traffic through the ICH.
It would be recalled that lately, lots of Ghanaians have been complaining about vanishing airtime. A case in point is one 78-year-old lady, Emelia Botchwey who lost over GHS40 to a VAS subscription called VUCLIP GAMES on MTN, for which she was charged GHS2.02 a day on her blind side, until her son discovered it and deactivated the service.

One Richard Bentle Junior also reported finding 12 unsolicited subscriptions on his phone recently, while yours truly also found an unsolicited paid-for Weather Service on his MTN TurboNet SIM, even though the TurboNet SIM was in the TurboNet and has never been put in any mobile phone.

VAS Code of Conduct

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This is in spite of the the fact that the National Communications Authority (NCA) has a fine law dubbed Unsolicited Electronic Communications Code of Conduct, which is supposed to guide and govern the operations of VAS providers and how they relate to subscribers.

Section 6.1.3 of the NCA’s Code of Conduct says “The process of obtaining [subscriber’s] consent shall be clear and transparent to the subscriber,” while  Section 31 (1,2 and 3) of places the duty of subscriber protection and consequences for the violation of same, squarely on the telcos, even if the violation was committed by their VAS partners.

The Expert however noted that whereas the ICH can ensure some sanity with regards to third-party VAS players whose service qualify as interconnect traffic, the limitation is that "the telcos are themselves VAS providers and therefore can choose to route their VAS traffic directly on-net to their subscribers without routing it through ICH."

He however believes that the NCA can cure this limitation by insisting that telcos separate their VAS (authorization/license) business from the main telecom service as has been done for mobile money. In that case, all VAS authorization holders, including telcos, will have to rout the traffic  through the ICH, and so there will be sanity there as well.

The Telecom Consultant however urged that the ICH operator, Afriwave Telecom ensure that it is really fully equipped to carry all the VAS interconnect traffic in the market, otherwise the market players may push back if the regulator wants to fully implement the ICH laws and insist all VAS interconnect traffic should go through the ICH.