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Telcos, minister disagree on SIM box solution

Communications Minister Edward Omane Boamah has set a 2016 target to eliminate the incidence of SIMbox fraud, which is estimated to cost the country in excess of US$70million annually in non-paid taxes.

Mr. Omane Boamah is banking government hopes on the yet-to-be established Interconnect Clearing House to stem the prevalence of a crime that telcos blame for the loss of more than 40 percent of call traffic from the US.

The minister, speaking at a news conference following the arrest of some SIM box operators, said ICH will become fully operational by middle of the year and is capable of rejecting or blocking calls emanating from improperly registered SIM-cards, which fraudsters rely on for their illegal deeds.

SIMbox fraud is a complex fraud system that makes a call from overseas appear on the phone screen as a local call. This is because the fraudsters channel the calls from abroad through unapproved routes by terminating them on SIMboxes fitted with local SIM-cards here in Ghana.

By so doing, the fraudsters gets to keep the international call-rate charged, but the telcos whose SIM-cards are used to terminate the call in Ghana only get paid the local call rate because the call was channelled through a local SIM-card.

But the sector minister, after the arrest of some eight operators, said an end to the illegal activities is in sight. He said: “I’m very confident that where a technology can offer a service, as much as possible we must allow the technology…which is why I want us to work toward smooth implementation of the ICH. I am very confident that by end of December 2015, when the ICH has become fully operational, the story will be significantly different,” he told newsmen.

The telecoms regulator, National Communications Authority, will on February 7 award the licence for the country’s first interconnect clearing house, which is to provide a common independent mechanism that accounts for billing and settlement of interconnected traffic for all existing and future operators in the country.

While the clearing house will take over all the functions relating to preparation of billing information and reconciliation reports, and the reconciliation process itself, Mr. Omane Boamah added that the nagging issue of SIMbox fraud will be eliminated through the ICH by 2016.

But CEO of the Telecoms Chamber Kwaku Sakyi-Addo is adamant that the solution to the SIMboxing lies elsewhere rather than establishing an interconnect clearing house.

Mr. Sakyi Addo speaking an interview with B&FT insisted that: “From where we sit, we are yet to be convinced that ICH is the solution to SIMboxing and even call-billing. The problem of SIMboxing will only be eliminated by a review in the current pricing mechanism rather than a technology -- it is not a technological problem”.

According to the Chamber, the 19 cents per minute charge on international calls is only serving as an incentive for the fraudsters who engage in the illegal operation.

"The current regime makes it extremely expensive to call Ghana, and so it costs 200 times more to call Ghana from the UK than it does to call Nigeria. It also means that even calling Ghana from Togo or from the Ivory Coast or from Sierra Leone or neighboring West African States is costly...It's expensive to call Ghana -- it's 19 cents. And from where we sit, we don't see this as a law and order problem; we don’t see this as a problem created by technology -- we see this as a pricing problem."

Credit: B&FT

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