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MTN, Get a better excuse on Short Codes

By James Wire Lunghabo

Added 5th December 2014 02:10 PM

MTN, Uganda''s leading Telecom operator is once again in the news with a tinge of arrogance this time round. Having been part of the process that saw UCC propose a switch to the usage of new harmonised shortcodes, the company has turned around and d

MTN, Uganda''s leading Telecom operator is once again in the news with a tinge of arrogance this time round. Having been part of the process that saw UCC propose a switch to the usage of new harmonised shortcodes, the company has turned around and d

MTN, Uganda's leading Telecom operator is once again in the news with a tinge of arrogance this time round. Having been part of the process that saw UCC propose a switch to the usage of new harmonised shortcodes, the company has turned around and decided to shelve the idea. 
 
A short code according to Wikipedia is a special telephone number, significantly shorter than full telephone numbers, that can be used to address SMS and MMS messages from certain service provider's mobile phones or fixed phones. There are two types of short codes: dialing and messaging and are designed to be easier to read and remember than normal telephone numbers.
 
Currently, on MTN Uganda, you need to dial *156# to get the Airtime balance on pre-paid simcards while on Orange Telecom you dial *131# to get the same. Considering that customers have multiple SIM cards and tend to roam from one network to the other based on service competencies, it becomes a nightmare if one has to recall different short codes for different networks to access the same service. This is one of the reasons the harmonisation is essential. It has happened elsewhere and has been of benefit to consumers in Europe and other African countries. 
 
I read with utter disbelief in this New Vision Article the comments attributed to the MTN General Manager Corporate Affairs, Mathias Katamba a brain I have always held in high regard. To say that his arguments were pedestrian is an understatement and are better off being fossilized. He states;
 
We cannot effect the directive because subscribers are used to these codes. We got the codes from UCC, and why is it (UCC) asking us to change them now?
 
If there is anything I have learnt in life is that change is a constant and the saying goes If you don't change, change will change you. Had I heard that statement from a patron in a bar close to midnight, I would excuse it to his/her inebriated state. Whether you have been using codes for 15 years or not, with the bigger picture in mind, it always helps to bite the bullet and effect the change. MTN has changed many things before. 
 
I recall when the MTN mobile data service begun, we used to pay a flat fee monthly and access the internet as much as we liked without data transfer limitations. In a span of just one month, consumers were told to embrace new changes that evolved into the current data bundles structure. Despite the cries and pleas many of us put forward, the company remained arrogant and went ahead without caring about its customers.
 
The same MTN forced customers to swap SIM cards with some being charged in the process as a result of 'delaying' to swap SIM cards. We were not consulted as customers but were told about the advantages of the new SIM cards vis a vis the old ones. Our compliance therefore was for the greater good of service provision.
 
I therefore find this excuse of subscribers being used to the current codes as a mockery of our intelligence. I am currently in Kigali, Rwanda and when I got a Local Airtel SIM, I felt so happy on the realisation that the short codes to access the basic services were similar to those that I use on my Orange Telecom line in Uganda. Sell these benefits to your customers MTN instead of buying time while sitting like a lame duck.
 
The same Article states that the GM Corporate Affairs noted that there is no point in harmonising the codes because UCC is planning to adopt Mobile Number Portability (MNP).
 
Surely, if there was a grain of reasoning put into this before blurting such a statement, he would have realised that he was shooting himself in the foot. MNP is aimed at helping customers seamlessly use their phone numbers on any network of choice meaning that if I have 0712-123456 on Uganda Telecom (UTL), I can simply switch from UTL to MTN without changing my number. As a consumer, the cost of switching will mean having to re-learn how to access customer care on MTN, load Airtime or check my balance a feat that can confuse one for a while. This therefore means that short code harmonisation definitely is an ideal precursor to the MNP implementation. What I read from this is that MTN probably wants to make it as inconveniencing as possible for future MNP implementation and adoption by consumers.
 
For Katamba to arrogantly state that the firm has NO plans to harmonise the codes is a symptomatic result of the feeble approach UCC has been using while dealing with these Telecoms. On numerous occasions, consumers have complained to the regulator about the unfair consumer practices of these Telcos and the organisation chose to keep mum. It is also known that often times when the whip is about to be cracked, some powers that be tend to pull the leash on UCC thereby forcing them to look on like a dog staring at sweet potatoes. This could have eventually built the arrogance that is currently being exhibited.
 
Your job is cut out Fred Otunnu the Director of Broadcasting at UCC. You either crack the whip and show that it hurts or continue issuing lame duck threats that will never see the light of day. The deadline for the Do Not Disturb Register passed and despite many of us consumers effecting the registration, we still receive Spam from these Telcos, now the short code scenario has come out and we hope that you give us an early Christmas by punishing any errant Telecom starting with MTN. As consumers, we are sober enough and willing to change for the better even when it means suffering a short term inconvenience.
 
Finally to Katamba, the UCC Act of 2013 states the functions of UCC as among others being;
to monitor, inspect, licence, supervise, control and regulate communications services; 
to establish, amend, administer and enforce a national numbering plan and electronic addresses plan; and assign numbers and electronic addresses; 
to set national standards and ensure compliance with national and international standards and obligations laid down by international communication agreements and treaties to which Uganda is a party; 
BE mindful of this as you engage with UCC and hopefully next time we shall have well researched arguments from MTN Uganda as to why the short codes shouldn't change. Adios!!
 
Email: lunghabo [at] gmail [dot] com
Twitter: @wirejames
 

MTN, Uganda''s leading Telecom operator is once again in the news with a tinge of arrogance this time round. Having been part of the process that saw UCC propose a switch to the usage of new harmonised shortcodes, the company has turned around and d

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