Suspension of cross-network mobile money service continues

Friday August 23 2019

Suffering losses. Customers, many of whom are

Suffering losses. Customers, many of whom are unaware of the more than two-months suspension, continue to suffer losses. PHOTO BY EDGAR R BATTE  

By Christine Kasemiire

Two months later, MTN and Airtel are yet to lift the suspension on cross-network mobile money transactions that was first noticed in in June.

Two months ago, MTN and Airtel suspended cross-network mobile money services, also known as interoperability, citing “technical failures”.

However, the service is yet to be restored with clients, many of whom are unaware of the suspension, reporting losses.

A source, who asked not to be named, told Daily Monitor telecoms were working to restore the service perhaps in two weeks time.

However, Daily Monitor could not independently verify the claim. The suspension was first brought to the attention of this newspaper through a memo in June that had been circulated to some Airtel staff, announcing the temporary suspension.

“Our technical teams are currently working to resolve the issue as soon as possible. We apologise for any inconveniences caused,” Ms Sumin Namaganda, the Airtel public relation manager, told Daily Monitor in June when asked about the matter.

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However, two months later, the service is yet to be restored.
A number of mobile money subscribers have suffered over the period with some experiencing irregular transactions while others have been debited weeks after money has been withdrawn.

MTN and Airtel hold a combined 90 per cent market share of mobile subscribers in Uganda.
Narrating several experiences that he has encountered, Mr Innocent Kawooya, the Digital Impact Awards Africa project lead, said the current impasse is unwarranted, more so at a time when mobile money has become a key mode of transaction.

“In one scenario, and this I know for a fact, an MTN mobile money subscriber transferred money to an Airtel Money user. However, the senders’ account was never debited yet the money had been received on the other end. Three weeks later, the money was deducted and a message, was sent through informing the user of the deduction,” he said.

The suspension, Mr Kawooya said, was a step in the wrong direction, urging regulators such as Bank of Uganda and Uganda Communications Commission to resolve the impasse.

Dr Adam Mugume, the Bank of Uganda executive director for research, told Daily Monitor they are aware of the suspension which resulted from failure of the messaging system between MTN and Airtel.

“The application programme interface (API) of both networks couldn’t communicate to each other. As such, Airtel had to switch off its platform,” he said, noting the two telecoms have since resolved the issue and are currently testing to eliminate any glitches.

However, Dr Mugume noted, that although the Central Bank was yet to process the June to July figures, the impact would be minimal since most mobile money transactions are conducted within MTN.

Ms Julianne Mweheire, the UCC director industrial affairs and content development, said they had relayed the issue to the Central Bank since mobile money interoperability is under its mandate.

Customers that Daily Monitor spoke to reported a total suspension of the service with attempts to send MTN mobile money to an Airtel subscriber returning a message: “… thank you for trying out our new services. We are loading more services in the coming days and this service will be available very soon.”

Airtel however, only indicates “initiatee suspended.”

Subscriber experience

According to Mr Innocent Kawooya, the Digital Impact Awards Africa project lead, cross-network mobile money services have, since June, not been unavailable.

Minus being a clear step backwards, the on-going standoff, which the Central Bank is aware of, has been an inconvenience to customers and some have had to lose money in the process.

For instance, in one scenario, an MTN mobile money subscriber transferred money to an Airtel Money user. However, the senders’ account was never debited yet the money had been received on the other end.

Three weeks later, the money was deducted and a message: “An adjustment has been made and (amount in UGX) has been withdrawn from your mobile money account ...”, was sent to inform the user.

But the chaos did not end at that. A week later, Airtel also did a similar deduction from the recipient’s end.

A visit to a service centre was a shocker in itself. The user was told that whereas he had received and withdrawn the money, MTN had not remitted the same to Airtel.

Surprisingly, no public explanation has been provided and users are not aware of what is gone on.
For whatever reason, the current impasse is unwarranted, more so at a time when mobile money has become the key model of transaction.

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