UNIFIED SHORT CODES: Respite for Consumers and More Businesses for VAS Vendors

The introduction of a unified short code system for the Nigerian telecoms industry by the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) means more businesses for the Value Added Services (VAS) vendor.


It also has altered the ecosystem of the telecommunications industry in the country, and it is obviously going bring respite for the consumers who had to keep in mind the several short codes that before now are unique to each network operator.

During the week, the Commission announced in a statement that it has granted approval and set deadline for the migration to a single short code for the telecoms operators after it had consulted with the relevant stakeholders in the sector.

The short code or short numbers are short digit sequences, significantly shorter than telephone numbers, that are used to address messages in the Multimedia Messaging System (MMS) and short message service (SMS) systems of mobile network operators. In addition to messaging, they may be used in abbreviated dialing.

According to the Nigerian communications Act 2003, short codes are numbers shorter than full numbers which can be used to address wireless SMS and MMS messages from mobile phones or fixed lines. The numbers are specifically designed to be shorter and easier to remember than the normal telephone numbers.

Before the approval came from the NCC, the Chairman of the Association of Licensed Telecommunications Companies of Nigeria (ALTON), Engr Gbenga Adebayo had in an interview on Channels Television applauded the decision of the regulator for the introduction of a unified short code for the telecoms operators, expressing enthusiasm of the positive impact that the unified short code would have on the industry and the relief it would give the telecoms consumers.

According to him, the current short codes are too complex for the consumer to understand and easily use adding sometimes consumers do make mistakes when using the short codes.

He said that the consumer will be the best beneficiary of the new unified short codes that has just been introduced by the NCC adding that the new codes make life easier for the consumers and good user experience, considering the fact that most of then have more than one mobile phone with different operator’s SIM.

With this initiative from the NCC, he said there will not be need again for consumers to start going online to look for short codes whenever they need to enjoy value added services (VAS), saying that the unified short code is part of the standardisation process that the regulator is implementing.

This development is not new to telecoms service delivery as a VAS because across the EMEA, the use of short codes are part of the service delivery goodies from telecoms operators.

For instance, in Australia, Short codes are six or eight digits in length, starting with the prefix “19” followed by an additional four or six digits and two.

And the Communications Alliance Ltd and WMC Global are responsible for governing premium and standard rate short codes in Australia.

In Canada, the Canadian Common Short Codes are five or six digits long. The Common Short Codes beginning with a leading ‘4’ are reserved for private use by wireless network operators.

In February 2020, CWTA (Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association) announced that Rogers Wireless will no longer participate in general use mobile codes in the future.

Before the NCC formally announced the approved short codes, ALTON had hinted in a statement the plan to implement a streamlined process for standard shortcodes across the industry, bringing relief to subscribers via the modernisation of single codes for various services across all the networks and providing a balanced regulatory framework consistent with global practices.

The introduction of the new short code regime, which is in line with NCC’s regulatory modernisation programme, is essentially to make life much easier for telecom consumers, as it is now easier for Nigerians to memorise single codes for various services across all mobile networks they may be using, thereby improving consumer quality of experience (QoE).

In addition, the new policy will provide opportunity for licensees in the Value-Added Services (VAS) segment of the telecoms sector to be able to use freed-up/old codes for other services, as well as enhance cohesive regulatory framework in keeping with world-class practices.

Businesses will certainly boom for the VAS industry, and that is because just like the Unstructured Supplementary Service Data (USSD) Short Codes which are issued only to those licensed to provide the Value Added Services to the telecos, the short code will freed-up/old codes for other services provided by the VAS vendors.

And the NCC has assured that the old and new harmonised short codes will run concurrently up until the May 17, 2023, when all networks are expected to have fully migrated to full implementation of the new codes.

The period between now and May 17, 2023 is provided by the NCC to enable telecom consumers to familiarise themselves with the new codes for various services.

With over 200 million Nigerians using mobile phones across all the network operators, the NCC may just have given a boost through the new unified shot code to the businesses of the VAS vendors when they began to use the freed-up/old codes for other services.

Short codes are divided into two categories namely: Shared or associated short code and dedicated short codes.

1. Shared or associated short codes:
These are short codes used by multiple brands, who share the setup and running costs to make short codes operation cheaper for smaller business owners, who may not be financially sufficient to operate dedicated short code.

2. Dedicated short codes:
These are exclusively owned and operated by a single brand that takes full responsibility of the setup costs and fees of the short codes.

Areas open for more business opportunities through the freed-up short codes include: Text to win promos, SMS Voting, Mobile Banking, Social Surveys,Health Tips, Prize draws, Business and Financial tips.

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