Ghana’s only telecoms industry interconnect clearinghouse (ICH), Afriwave Telecom is now fully connected to all four telcos and now carries all interconnect voice and SMS communication traffic in the country.
One hundred percent interconnect traffic, according to Afriwave, comes to an average of about 600 million minutes of calls month on month.
This means as of today, any call or SMS going from one network to another in Ghana, goes through the ICH before terminating on the intended network. It makes reconciliation between the telcos much easier and also replaces the hitherto complex peer to peer arrangement.
Additionally, at least seven International Wholesale Carriers (IWCs) who operate international gateways that bring in calls from outside Ghana into the country have also connected to the ICH.
Currently, five of the seven IWCs are fully active and they route at least 20 per cent of all inbound international calls through the ICH, with the rest going directly to the telcos’ networks under different arrangements.
Meanwhile, the ICH is also all set to deliver on its other regulatory mandates pending approval of its additional state-of-the-art data center by National Communications Authority (NCA).
The ICH was licensed under the Electronic Communications Amendment Act, 2016, Act 910 to provide a wide range of services including, in the main, building and operating a common platform for both domestic, outbound and inbound interconnect traffic between all local service providers and between international traffic carriers and domestic operators.
It is also to be the single connection point between value added service (VAS) providers in Ghana and the telecoms operators in the country and their subscribers, plus a myriad of other services within its mandate, including building and operating an internet exchange point (IXP).
Since starting operations on the back of Act 910, Afriwave Telecom has established two major data centers in Accra and Kumasi to carry interconnect traffic and offer other services.
It started with 40 per cent of interconnect traffic, but since September 2021 it has been carrying all domestic interconnect traffic between the four telcos – MTN, Vodafone, AirtelTigo and Glo.
This was possible because Afriwave, in collaboration with technology partner, Huawei and some local banks, have built a US$38 million facility, hosted by globally acclaimed data center and IXP operators, ONIX at their Accra Data Center.
Indeed, this year, Afriwave went into a strategic partnership with ONIX, and that gives Afriwave access to Ghana’s second internet exchange point (IXP), also hosted by ONIX, plus a formidable data centre offering with a solar powered Tier 4 certified facility that is connected to most of the main carriers in Ghana.
Afriwave is now therefore well positioned to deliver a world class offering of data centre, connectivity, Cloud and Value-Added Services into the Ghanaian and regional market.
Speaking of regional market, the company recently joined the Smart Africa Alliance as a senior member and the first Ghanaian private sector industry player to have done so, with the aim of fostering strategic collaborations across the continent within the framework of the AfCFTA (Africa Continental Free Trade Area).
Indeed, as stated above, one of the critical roles of the ICH would be to connect all value added service players, local and international to the telcos and their subscribers to ensure sanity in that space as well. The sanity required is mainly in the areas of replacing the multiple connection points regime with a single one, revenue reconciliation issues and also prevent remote signing on of subscribers without their consent.
Currently, when the NCA licenses a short code for a VAS player, that VAS player would have to go to each of the four telcos, meet their separate conditionalities before the short code will be activated for use. That can be stressful and also delay their go-to-market strategy.
But with the ICH, the VAS player can just deal with the ICH and it will get all the telcos to activate the short code for the VAS player. ICH will also play an effective role in revenue share reconciliation between telcos and their VAS partners. The VAS players often raise concerns about revenue reconciliation challenges. ICH promises to make that a thing of the past.
The additional value ICH brings to VAS providers is the cost cutting opportunity. Once it is providing a single connection point, the VAS providers get to pay less for a universal access and is also sure of proper revenue reconciliation.
Stemming Airtime Loot
But more critically, some VAS players, including telcos themselves have made it a practice to sign on subscribers remotely to VAS and siphon their airtime, often on the blind side of the subscribers. That violates the NCA’s Unsolicited Electronic Communication Code of Conduct, which mandates telcos to protect subscribers by seeking their express consent before signing them on to any VAS.
Once the ICH law is fully implemented and the ICH is made the only mandated network to route VAS interconnect traffic from VAS providers to telcos and their subscribers in Ghana, it will route only VAS traffic that meets all the regulatory requirement. So any VAS traffic that violates the Code of Conduct will not be forwarded to the intended subscribers.
There is however a limitation, which can also be cured with regulatory/policy intervention. 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. Nonetheless, the NCA can cure this limitation by insisting that telcos separate their VAS (authorization/license) business from the main telecom service as they have done for mobile money. In that case, all VAS authorization holders, including telcos, will have to route the traffic through the ICH, and so there will be sanity.
Other Licensed Services
Beyond routing interconnect traffic and providing single point of connection for VAS providers, the ICH is also mandated to provide more services, which have the prospects of creating value for industry players, government and consumers alike. The additional mandate include the following:
- Provision of capacity and routing for both IP and TDM based traffic and to ensure full operability of all networks and service providers in the country.
- Connection to Number Portability Services, Banks Switch, and Internet Exchange as and when required.
- Authorized to connect the ICH to:
a. Any other telecommunications network operated under a License granted by the
Authority in accordance with the Act.
b. Any recognized telecommunications network outside Ghana
c. Any earth-orbiting apparatus in accordance with applicable requirements; and
d. Any terminal approved by the Authority.
- Meanwhile, nothing in the ICH license takes away the need to obtain any other license for the purposes of providing such other services that are not covered by this license and as may be required under the Electronic Communications Act, Act 775, Electronic Communications Amendment Act, Act 910 or any other enactment.