20 April 2018

Nigeria: Call Masking - NCC Makes U-Turn, Blames SIM Box Operators

Photo: Premium Times
Ibrahim Idris

Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) has blamed SIM Box operators for persistent incidence of call masking in telecommunications system. Call masking is a practice in which callers hide their true numbers when making calls, especially international calls, in order to evade the international call rates.

Mr. Efose Idehen, head, Compliance Monitoring and Enforcement, NCC, said in Lagos earlier this week that his team is currently monitoring persistent call masking after sanctions and warning on perceived culprits interconnect Clearing houses did not yield any result."We have identified SIM Box operators as being responsible for call masking currently going on in the industry," he said.

He explained that the SIM Box operators route their calls through mobile network operators (MNOs) making it looks as if the calls are coming from the mobile operators.He noted that the situation is made possible because of small difference between international call termination rate and national call termination rate.

Engr. Gbenga Adebayo, chairman, Association of Licensed Telecommunications Operators of Nigeria (ALTON), said that the twist in culpability of call masking have raised integrity issue on NCC, having sanctioned some operators for being behind call masking and thereafter identify another group when the problem did not stop.

"What this means is that there is need for proper investigation to be carried out before sanctions are melted out on operators. There is need for more consultation and stakeholders' engagement before decisions on sanction are taken.

"I have said several times that sanctions do not solve problems. What has happened in this situation is that NCC may have sanctioned the right people in the wrong way, they need address this problem by identifying those really behind it, if international and national call termination rates are induce factor, it can be reviewed to address it," he said.

Adebayo, described SIM Box operators as virtual operators licensed to provide value added services. "Their services are driven by technology through a small transit switching computer that enables them to trunk calls. They are everywhere in the industry. It would be recalled that NCC in February this year suspended the operating licenses of some telecommunications operators for engaging in call masking.

The commission also issued warning letters to others it said were caught engaging in the practice.A statement issued by Tony Ojobo, Director of Public Affairs, NCC, said the telecommunications regulatory agency had also begun the second phase of investigation on the involvement of digital mobile operators in masking activities.

"The NCC has recently been inundated with complaints from service providers and consumers regarding the high incidence of call masking, call refiling and SIM boxing," the statement said.

"Generally, the practice complained of involves disguising international calls as local calls in order to profit from price differentials between international and local calls.

"Apart from the resultant loss of revenue by service providers, the practice also has some negative security implications. Following a painstaking investigation process, which included collaboration with the Office of the National Security Adviser and the Department of State Services, the commission has imposed a range of sanctions on licensees involved in the fraudulent practice."

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