What does it take to get a USSD code for your brilliant VAS service?

Nigel Gambanga Avatar
USSD Codes

For every tech entrepreneur angling for the mobile market in ZImbabwe or Africa one option that always presents itself as being lucrative is that of VAS services development. We all want a chance to create and launch solutions that can cater for the millions of mobile users that offer a potential market too big to ignore.

With the uptake in smartphone and data use not yet at very mature levels ,VAS products that cater for GSM are the best way to get a piece of the market.

Assuming you have an idea for a brilliant VAS solution that you have developed what comes next is partnering with an MNO willing to host your service on its network. This is always the uncomfortable bit for developers afraid of getting their ideas stolen from them. Assuming your idea gets snatched from you the battle with a well funded, lawyered-up MNO is bound to be very brutal.

MNOs have however always had an open door policy regarding the engagement of developers with viable VAS products. This was something emphasised at the Broadband Forum by Econet Wireless’ Head of VAS, Spencer Manguwa. 

According to Manguwa Econet Wireless is keen on partnering with VAS developers. Like every other network, if you approach Econet with a proposal and the network is willing to create a relationship with you, the next step will be acquiring the yearly lease on a USSD code from POTRAZ. This costs $1200 per year, a licence cost which a developer should be ready to bear.

Apparently getting the USSD code from POTRAZ does not take long, less than a week in fact assuming all requirements are met. This, of course, is likely to be verified by the MNO before submitting the application.

Having forged a partnership with the MNO and received the USSD code your brilliant VAS service will then be headed to market. It all seems too simple but the snag that exists in all of this is getting an MNO to play ball. After all, you can still put the cart before the horse, go to POTRAZ and apply for a USSD code without the MNO. Unfortunately without a network you’d still need to convince an MNO to accept your idea.

The drawback is that the MNOs get to decide which proposals they want pursue, something which seems fair for them from a business perspective. The MNO essentially has to assume risks associated with the potential failure of any VAS service. If a developer does not have a solution with a strong business case the MNO has to dismiss the proposal to avoid the usual nightmares associated with corporate failure.

For the developer it means that any ideas developed must be worth the MNO’s consideration. Another consequence is how certain VAS services can be dismissed if the MNO does not see the potential of an idea or how it might fit its product suite.

Until we get aggregator services in Zimbabwe developers have to adjust to this arrangement which puts the MNO in a better bargaining position. Despite word from players like 23rd Century Systems about their work on introducing such a service there hasn’t been any development in that regard.

Some developers are still approaching MNOs with proposals, something that these operators encourage. According to Manguwa as long as an idea is viable and relevant to the market there is no reason why an MNO would refuse it.