How Ghana Ended up with a $178 Million Dollar Bill for Keeping its Telcos Honest

Basic_Telco_Billing_Diagram

Credit: original diagram by Aayush

Look carefully at the diagram above.

1. From 2010, and especially 2015, onwards, agents of the Ghanaian government (notably contractors, GVG, Afriwave and Subah) used to collect logs termed as Call Detail Records (CDRs) generated by the Authentication, Authorisation & Accounting (AAA) systems of the telecom network from network switches. A module of the AAA called the Service Control Point (SCP) interfaces between the live network and the software system that does the billing.

2. As you can see from the diagram, those CDR records are useless until they are “interpreted” by the charging system (the part encircled in blue). Easy way to understand: supposed you call a friend and he/she does not pick. Supposed someone just counts this call and claims that the telco collected money for it. Would that be sensible? So, in essence, the CDRs have little meaning unless the telco also provides the tariff scheme, charging rules, discount schedule (for all the promos etc), among other algorithms. That is what the part enclosed by the blue circle in the diagram does.

3. Whether due to ignorance or neglect, it has now come to light that much of what Ghana has been billed for (at least $32 million a year for a while now) so far in the name of “monitoring” lying and dishonest telcos by sending CDRs to contractors has just been driven by ignorance. The contractors have been relying on the telco’s reinterpretation of their own data.

4. Most Ghanaians appear confused by the development because they had assumed that by “monitoring” it was meant that the contractors were actually deploying equipment in the part enclosed by the green circle. That is the base station controllers. That would of course have been a joke if the point is to accurately measure revenue to the last dollar. Even the telcos themselves don’t “count calls on masts”.

5. What the Ghanaian government now says it will do is, in the words of its spokespersons, “live monitoring”. That means the telcos won’t be emailing the CDRs in batch on excel spreadsheets. The new Ghanaian contractors – KelniGVG – shall collect the CDRs one after one in a continuous stream. Unfortunately, that would still be useless without relying on the telcos’ charging software to provide the relevant context such as which calls and data downloads were charged and for how much (rating, metering and billing).

6. Government officials have thus been at pains to clarity that the contractor shall also be collecting the billing reports (service charge records). But it is the same CDRs (or IPDRs, in the case of data) that when rated become the billing reports/SCRs. And at any rate, the contractors will still be relying on the telco’s billing systems, or at least regularly updated charging schemes and rules, to convert the raw data into accounting spreadsheets that are meaningful. Frankly, it looks like some people want to hide behind jargon to hoodwink the Ghanaian people.

7. Rather than revenue assurance, what this is most likely to be useful for is customer protection. Had the Ghanaians set this up right, then this could have been used to help subscribers who believe telcos are “stealing their data” to get independent verification and perhaps relief. In most sophisticated jurisdictions, when regulators talk about this kind of stuff that’s what usually concerns them most.

8. But if at all Ghana has to continue to running its own independent CDR re-rating and charging processes (which is what this is about) there are many off the shelf packages used in the industry for just that. Telcos charge each other for interconnect services, roaming, termination, etc., all the time. Software for doing that is available on a SAAS/hosted basis from as low as $1000 a month. Even if the Ghanaian government wants to host the solution locally in its own network control room/datacenter, one struggles to see how setup and maintenance for something like this can cost more than $150,000 a year.

So why is the Ghanaian government spending $178 million on this expense for 10 years?

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