Telecom Border Control – Rwanda learns from Ghana

19 Sep

From: Ghana/Samuel Nii Narku Dowuona/Adom News          September 18, 2012, 00:17 GMT

Adom News Editor, Nii Narku Dowuona, interviews Major Francois Regis Gatarayiha, Director General of RURA

The real time International Gateway Verification System is fully functional in Rwanda, unlike Ghana, but the Director-General of Rwandan Utilities Regulations Agency (RURA), Major Francois Regis Gatarayiha says the system is successful in his country because of lessons they learnt from Ghana and other African countries.

“Ghana installed a series system where all inbound international calls had to go through the international gateway monitoring equipment of the regulator before terminating on the network of the intended operator. But we have a passive system where our monitors are parallel to the connection between the international gateway and the operators’ network so we extract the statistical information at the same time the call goes to the operator’s network without we interfering with the content and quality of the call,” he said.

Maj. Gatarayiha made the statement in an exclusive interview with Adom News Editor Nii Narku Dowuona at the RURA office in Rwanda recently.

Nii Narku Dowuona was in that country to learn about the newly installed International Gateway Verification System, which has come under immense criticism from giant telecom operators in the western world because of the requirement on them to pay a fixed rate to telcos in Africa for calls coming into Africa from mainly Africans in the Diaspora.

The telcos in the west are gearing up to challenge African governments’ involvement in telecom border control at the forthcoming International Telecommunications Union (ITU) World Congress on Information Technologies (WCIT-12) in Dubai this December; and African governments are also preparing to make a case for state involvement in gateway monitoring as a means of ensuring sanity in the system and raising the accurate amount of taxes needed for the development of poor African countries, which is permitted by ITU’s decision at its Plenipotentiary Conference in 1998.

Ghana implemented aspects of the system in 2010, but the part that allows the regulator, National Communication Authority (NCA) to install real time verification equipment on the switches of the various networks was prevented by a court action because some citizens, believed to have been sponsored by telecom operators, felt the ‘series system’ would allow the managers of the system to listen into their private calls, and also affect the quality of the calls, since it has to go through an extra equipment before reaching the consumer.

But the NCA has since restructured the installation and adopted the Rwandan style of a ‘passive system’ that runs parallel to the E1s (channels) of the various networks and only extracts only statistical information such as the number of calls going through the gateway, how many of those calls are picked, and how many minutes each call lasts for.

Whereas Ghana’s the NCA has said the system is meant to monitor only inbound international calls, Rwanda’s system is a bit more elaborate and it monitors both inbound and outgoing international calls, and even local calls to ensure that the call data records (CDRs) generated by the telcos, are in line with what the RURA generates.

Maj. Gatarayiha said citizens of Rwanda have never complained about interference with their privacy and quality of experience because “our citizens are fully aware that we are doing this in their interest and we even have spectrum and quality of experience (QoE) monitoring vehicles that go round the country to check and ensure that operators are meeting their key performance indicators.”

He said the vehicles also check to know which calls are actually going through approved E1s (channels) and which ones are going through illegal channels like SIM Boxes so they could be dealt with, adding that SIM boxing has however not been a big issue in Rwanda.

Monitoring the Minutes for Revenue Assurance 
Telecom Border Control – Rwanda learns from Ghana

RURA DG, Maj. Gatarayiha (in blue jacket), explains how the real time verification system works to Rwandan Prime Minister, Pierre Damien Habumuremyi (in striped shirt) as some managers of the system look on

In Ghana, the implementation of the system was complemented with a law that fixed inbound international call rates at 19 cents per minute, and the state gets 6 cents on every 19 cents, and the telcos keep 13 cents, which is way higher than what they used to get prior to the price fixing.

The telcos in Ghana thought 19 cents was rather high and is an incentive to SIM Box fraudsters, but in Rwanda the rate has been fixed at 22 cents per minute, which is much higher, and the RURA D-G said telcos in the country (MTN, Airtel and Tigo) raised similar concerns but “we made it clear to them that is why we do spectrum inspection on their behalf for free so we can identify SIM Box fraudsters.”

Out of the 22 cents per minute, RURA gets 10 cents and the telcos get to keep 12 cents, which is higher than the 7 to 9 cents they used to get per minute of inbound international calls.

“The overseas giant carriers charge 50cents per minute of calls to Rwanda and they used to give the local telcos only 7 to 9 cents, but now we get 22 cents and those overseas carriers have not increased their rates because they know it is already too high,” Gatarayiha said.

Since the implementation took off in Ghana, the NCA has been recording an average of 100million minutes of inbound international calls every month, from which it raises an average of $60million in taxes every month, but the RURA Boss says it has only issued its first monthly invoice, and it generated some 11 million minutes of calls, which means the country raked in $2.42 million in the first month of the implementation of the monitoring system.

Out of that money, the state of Rwanda gets $1.1million from which it would pay the equipment providers and managers, Global Voices Group; and the telcos get to keep the remaining $1.32million.

“Hitherto there was no revenue share between the state and the telcos and the state got absolutely nothing from these international calls except meager taxes that the telcos paid based on the CDRs (call data records) they generated and declared at the end of every year without any means for us to verify whether they are declaring the right figures or not,” he said.

“Now we are monitoring the calls in real time and we see the calls as they come in and go out and we know how many minutes each call lasts. The telcos claimed they were hiding nothing so there was no need to monitor. But we insisted that if there was nothing to hide then there was no need for them to be anxious about we seeing things for ourselves,” Maj. Gatarayiha said.

Maj. Gatarayiha believes the monitoring system is one of the best things the government could do for the people of Rwanda because it helps to ensure quality of calls, stem fraud and also provides revenue assurance for national development.

Currently there are four telecom operators in Rwanda, MTN, Tigo, Airtel and the state-owned Rwandtel. The three private telcos are mobile operators and Rwandtel is the only fixed line operator.

MTN entered the market in 1998 and it is currently the overwhelming market leader with 69% market share, followed by Tigo (2004) with a bit over 28% market share, and then Airtel, which entered the market only in 2010, has 2% plus market share.

Maj. Gatarayiha said the country planned to license a maximum of four private telcos but looking at the size of the population and purchasing power of citizens, they have no immediate plans to license a fourth operator.

Telecom coverage in Rwanda is currently 97% and mobile penetration is 45% against a population of 11 million.

The country has licensed 11 ISPs (Internet Service Providers) and seven of them, including all the three mobile operators, are currently operational.

Maj. Gatarayiha said plans are afoot to give the RURA regulatory powers over radio and TV stations through a memorandum of understanding, which would require the media to do self-regulation under the supervision of RURA.

RURA issues operational licenses to telcos through auctioning so there is no flat licensing fee, and the spectra fees is RWF1.2 million (about $2,000) per megahertz; and licenses are technology neutral, which means once a telco has a license it can have 2G, 3G or 4G network, but in accordance with what is stated in the licensing requirement. Telcos also pay a meager $10,000 per year for a block of one million numbers.

The RURA DG said telecom regulatory fees is one per cent of telcos’ annual turnover, just like in Ghana; but telcos also contribute two per cent of turnover into the Universal Access Fund, what we call the GIFEC Fund in Ghana. This is one per cent in Ghana, and it is used for providing last mile infrastructure in rural, un-served and under-served communities among other things.

Rwanda is also encouraging co-location and incentivizing telcos which extend services to the remote and less profitable un-served and under-served areas.

Maj. Gatarayiha said RURA, the telcos and the local authorities have an agreement which ensures that local government levies on telcos for installation of infrastructure are within reasonable levels, unlike in Ghana where local authorities charge telcos arbitrarily unreasonable amounts as compared to what they charge other commercial organizations.


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