Archive for November, 2011

It seems that old pal Nixon Wampamba cannot escape the evils of simboxes. Last December he was in the news after the arrest of eight fraudsters. This year, Nixon’s Airtel team is being described as ‘less vigilant’ than his Ghanaian peers… and indirectly held responsible for USD9M of simbox losses suffered by MTN Ghana between March and October; see here. According to the story:

Figures from the National Communication Authority (NCA) indicate that in September, 2011 alone, it detected 5,454 SIMS being used for SIM boxing, out of which 21 (0.39%) were Vodafone SIM cards, 64 (1.2%) were MTN and Tigo SIMs combined, and the remaining 5,369 (98.44%) were Airtel SIM cards.

When approached by the press, Nixon gave as good as he got, and managed to turn the tables on his would-be detractors by highlighting the expensive retail tariffs of competitors:

“Since we launched our 8-8 flat tariffs the SIM Box fraudsters have gravitated to Airtel, so maybe if any telecom operator beats our rates, then they may also have the SIM Box fraudster gravitating towards them…”

Nixon went on to say:

“It is true that our SIMs still remain the most attractive to fraudsters due to affordability, but I can tell you that over time the NCA’s detection of Airtel numbers in SIM Boxes has reduced from about 500 a day to 100 day – a clear sign that we are winning against the fraudsters gradually…”

Both Nixon and the fraudsters are engaged in a long and hard fight. Good luck to Nixon, and let us hope that by next December, Nixon will be enjoying better headlines.

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Here is an interesting article on ‘death of email’. It argues Social Media based communication systems are growing and far more effective than emails. A thought struck me. What if we could have ‘Social Media’ systems as Official Communication Systems. Now-a-days we use email extensively for office purposes, and in some case we also add a Office Communicator System (like the one provided by Microsoft) for instant communication between employees. Isn’t the office communicator same as chat in Facebook with additional capabilities of sending file and et al? Effectively it is? So what are we looking at now? Would it not be great to have an ‘Official Social Networking and Tool’ (which obviously is cloud based) where You can communicate (like emails) and “chat” all at the same time and from the same place? Add on to that, multiple such platforms/’official social network’ combine together to form one GIANT NETWORKING TOOL across the globe, so that just as You send ‘official’ emails to others, we use a similar platform for the communication. The best part could be ‘finding other people’ across the globe- adding (LinkedIn’s or any normal Social Networking Tools capabilities).

The sad part also would be, it would be a Hackers’ Paradise, but then we are working towards data security and such measures.

I definitely look forward to such an ‘all encompassing communication system’.

What would it mean to telcos and most from an RA perspective? (Hey I’m on ‘TalkRA’!!) I guess nothing- except for a lot more data to deal with, a lot more security checks, and a lot more partner management activities in terms of revenue. Am I missing something in here for the ‘Big Brother’ telecoms who I guess would still be backbone service providers at dirt cheap rates?


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Everybody likes standardized ways of working. There is comfort in saying:

- We do this as a standard practice

- Our processes are standardized

- We have a standard template for this

Go on, say it out loud. I guarantee you will feel very accomplished.

So, if you are running a group operation overseeing 10, 20 or 30 odd countries, it makes you feel even greater, when you send out a template for guiding a standardized way of doing RA in the countries that your company operates in. This may even conveniently ignore the nuances of the processes, systems and people in each of the end markets. Spare no effort, make sure the Excel worksheet is color-coded and extremely complex. At specific cells, include scary formulae (STDEV, IFERROR, FACTDOUBLE, MULTINOMIAL and MINVERSE) in order to strike fear in the guys who are filling in the returns at end month.  Well, who stops to ask whether we need to standardize everything? I do not have the figures (ahem, Big 4, take cue and do a study on this) but some leakages are detected because people thought a little more outside of the confines of the formal activity universe of RA. Even in human history, it is the people who conformed the least that we remember the most.

Granted, we may not really want to allow RA to run in a cow-boy fashion entirely. Neither are we are  outlaws but the group office sheriffs who keep asking for compliance to templates also have the tendency to keep pontificating and talking down at the  end market staff with little regard for insights from the man who has his hands on the plough. These turn-coats (some who were once working at end-markets) will one day breed a very mean contingent of rogue RA practitioners who will go on to begin an underground movement that makes talkRA gadfly Eric look like a saint. The end-market plough-holders might break loose and unleash untold misery on the Group office bureaucrats who insist on Excel worksheets being completed in a certain manner. And how will they do that? By quantifying the amount of leakage identified through adherence to the template and the amount of leakage that is identified through responsible use of leeway, creativity and imagination. Heck, these miscreants may even show the success that they have achieved by outright disobedience to the communicated templates! The figures may surprise us.

Standardizing and templates are good for Group office arm-chair RA types, but sometimes not so good for the guy in the trenches who is forced to fill 1000 checklists. Should he spend this time identifying and driving the plugging of leakages or doing paperwork? After all is said (at group) and done at (end market), are we better off or worse off? And so it happens that rather than control flights of fancy, standardization becomes a burden. RA departments then start spending time shuffling between this and that template and justifying why this and that task was not done. In a sense, this was always going to happen. Human beings have the tendency to take something good and proceed to mangle and twist and smother it until it becomes a problem. To my simplistic mind, it is due to this very tendency that we found a way to convert plants which would be innocently growing in their natural habitat into a global narcotics problem.

I say forget these blanket standardized templates and the whole flurry of make-believe governance that goes with them. Forget these impressive-on-paper but meager-delivery standard RA coverage maps that we have all become so fond of. Reduce the toll they take on the real RA worker. At most, provide a common core of very generic controls that might apply on every market and make sure that the execution of the same can reasonably and adequately be done within 40% of the (wo)mandays that RA has. Even with these suggested minimalist generic controls that are informative as opposed to being mandatory, let the end market determine which ones are necessary. Then, let 60% of the RA time be spent on customized approaches to areas of greatest need that the guys on the frontline determine to warrant attention. After all, when the music stops, these are the people who are left with no chairs and if they can clearly rationalize why effort was applied to certain areas as opposed to others, shouldn’t they have adequate leeway then?

If we invested less in issuing  and driving compliance to standard RA templates and more in knowledge share and critiques across countries, operators and vendors, I suspect what would happen is that the RA work-environment would balance itself through infusion of the best ideas, the most optimum practices, the most relevant controls and comparison of outcomes. Natural selection will ultimately leave us with only what we need by dropping what we do not need.  We would achieve standardization of approaches while still allowing healthy self-expression. In a sense, an accidental standardization may check in. I don’t know where such an eventuality would leave the group-office bureaucrats but hey, I like that better.

Disclosure:  I would like to point out that as much as I work at a group office. I am not guilty of the ills I have pointed out here.

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As previously reported on talkRA Malawi’s regulator is imposing a ‘revenue assurance’ system on its operators, even though the operators insist it infringes customer privacy. In a new joint statement, the operators have reiterated their position:

“We therefore continue to alert our customers and members of the general public that, once the system is implemented in its current form, the operators will no longer be in a position to safeguard the privacy and confidentiality of customers’ communication activities, as we understand it to be our obligation under our respective operating licenses, subscriber contracts, the Communications Act (1998) and the Constitution of the Republic of Malawi.”

There is no sign that the Malawi Communications Regulatory Authority (MACRA) intend to back down. MACRA Director General Charles Nsaliwa reportedly told the press that:

“The system will ensure quality services from operators and will only monitor Call Detail Record (CDR) which operators already submit to Macra on request…”

Meanwhile, Malawi’s Nyasa Times has reported excerpts from the legal advice given to MACRA about the new system. If reportedly accurately, the advice suggests the need for law reforms and public consultation before the system is implemented. It also suggests that Malawi’s operators are already paying their fair share of tax:

“Operators already submit all the information required by the system, both as regards revenue and quality of service. In respect of the former, they are audited annually by reputable auditors and do submit accurate revenue data to MACRA…”

Something smells rotten. CDR data cannot be used to ensure the quality of services. National regulators habitually determine service quality through tests that simulate the user experience, not by scrutinizing operator CDRs. It looks to me that Malawi’s regulator has stopped serving Malawi’s public, misleading them that their privacy should be threatened for a ‘quality’ benefit that cannot be delivered in the way they are suggesting. The real purpose of the system is evidently to prevent tax evasion by Malawi’s operators, which begs the question of why the system is needed if existing audits find no discrepancies. Customers deserve to be told the truth of that, and not told some nonsense about improving service quality. Malawi’s citizens can then decide who they think is less trustworthy: the operators when paying tax, or the government when reviewing every call made in Malawi.

Look here for the Nyasa Times’ article on MACRA’s legal advice, and here for more on the public statements made by operators and the regulator.

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Imagine a day when we wake up to find that the phones (mobile, satellite phones, landlines et al) and internet (any form of ‘online’ communication system) not working/not available – across the globe. That is scary. Isn’t it? Two of the most important aspects of our lives – just not available. Imagine how many billion dollar businesses would just shut down immediately. Facebook, Apple—and a bunch of companies we love. We love them only because of the services the telecoms provide us. Else, what is an iPhone, or Facebook if we just did not have the internet service provided to us?

The point I am trying to make is- if the telecom backbone was not there, rather if the single largest engineering feat on the face of the planet was not there, the world at large would almost stand still. However, it is the same business that is today suffering the most in terms of dwindling revenues, ARPUs and AMPUs.

Almost all services are being provided through the telecom backbone, yet the companies suffering most in terms of revenue loss are the telecom ones. Every new innovation that is happening (NFC, LTE, 4G, M2M and almost every other thing that is making our lives easier) first and foremost “assumes” the availability of the telecom backbone. Billions are being made out of such innovations by companies who are not exactly the telecom companies. However, every other financial aspect that hurts like hell like fraud et al, largely affects the telcos, while no one takes the rest of the blames. I wonder what is the ‘sense of duty’ that the telecom operators carry within themselves to serve others while they themselves bleed profusely ?

Why should the telecom operators serve other businesses if it is not enabling the telcos to make more profits than the rest of the businesses dependent on them? I don’t want to sound empathetic or sympathetic – but coming to think of it, should the telecoms also not make as much profits (and more) as the rest of the companies? Should this not be a symbiotic relationship rather than a parasitic one?

A point in the symbiotic relationship could probably have been Net Neutrality- but well we have already shot it down. So, I ask, is it time that telecom companies and ISPs become charitable organizations? At least such organizations who ‘serve’ humanity make a lot of money through donations. Is it not time that telecom and ISPs also make tons of money just like their ‘parasitic’ counterparts?


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