By Adedeji Adeyemi Fakorede
Major Value Added Service (VAS) providers in the country have appealed to the leadership of the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) to fast-track the allocation of long codes for operators.
These affected VAS providers were licensed over two years ago by the Commission to deliver voice services via special numbering codes also known as long codes.
The long codes are known as a virtual mobile number or dedicated phone number. It is a simple alternative to using a personal mobile number, which enables one to seamlessly send and receive messages. They are the quickest and cheapest dedicated number solution.
However, National Daily gathered that despite the high growth of mobile subscribers, the specific market of mobile VAS services, still need to be well structured for sustainable development and improve its contribution to the growth of the communication sector.
The Nigerian government and other African countries have been lauded for their ICT liberalisation policies and for creating a competitive environment for the players in the telecommunications sector.
Interestingly, the Executive Vice Chairman of NCC, Prof. Umar Danbatta, had last year disclosed that the activities of VAS providers in the telecommunications sub-sector added about N30 billion to the Nigerian economy within the last few years.
Danbatta, who said VAS operations have also created jobs in the sector, also informed that the Commission will continue to enforce proper regulations that would keep the sub-sector flying.
But stakeholders have also posited that despite the increasing number of licenced VAS providers, the market strength has been on the decline.
This, according to them, is because the premium Short Message Service (SMS) short codes business, which is mainly dedicated for the commercialisation of mobile content is completely under control of Mobile Network Operators (MNOs). These MNOs are said to have imposed their technical and commercial terms on licenced VAS/SMS short code providers, which they claimed have resulted, among other things, into unfair revenue sharing for the service provision.
Information gathered by National Daily shows that the MNOs owed the VAS operators about N30 billion, which are proceeds that should have accrued to the about 100 providers said to be operating in the country.
Indeed, there is an increasing demand for long codes services for various kinds of businesses especially in the domain of the cloud unified communication, multichannel call centre operations and a host of others.
The industry is however worried that some five companies, which have been licensed to deliver services via special numbering codes in the past two years, none seems to have been allocated a range of VAS long numbers.
According to available information on NCC website, the licencees are Alpha Technologies Ltd, Lagos; Callme Nigeria Limited, Abuja; GTS-Infotel Nigeria Limited, Lagos; Cedarview Communications Limited, Lagos; Trium Networks Limited, Lagos and Interra Networks Limited, Abuja.
Checks have shown that one of the licensees, which got its licence over 12 years ago, is the only firm currently offering VAS long codes services using the 0700 and 0800 codes. But the other five licencees are unable to operate for over two years now as a result of delay by the regulator in releasing the access code for them.
This, they lamented, has been negatively impacting their business growth, while also expressing concern as to what to do with their licences in addition to the loss of investors’ confidence already being experienced.
The non-allocation, according to market observers might heighten tension in the sub-sector and give room for insinuations around a monopoly regime, which could in the long run impact on the competitiveness and creativity in the VAS segment of the telecoms sector.
One of the affected operators, the Managing Director, GTS-Infotel, Pierre-François, when contacted, appealed to the telecoms sector regulator to urgently address the situation.
He said: “We urged the NCC, as one of the acclaimed best regulatory bodies in Africa and beyond to do something urgent to these concerns. We believe that Nigeria as the centre of excellence for ICT in Africa, should, through its telecommunication regulatory body show direction to other African countries with respect to the development of a sustainable mobile VAS market, which is a growing sector of the digital economy.”
National Daily however learnt that the NCC has already commenced processes that will ensure all that is needed to be done as far as VAS regulations are concerned are done and appropriately.
“These are part of the processes that are being looked into. The delay in taken some decisions was because the board of the NCC has just been inaugurated. They were inaugurated about four weeks ago. So, when they settle well into the job, all licences and others that need to be issued, the modalities and other technical requirements would be communicated to the industry,” an NCC source stated.