The second fastest-growing continent after China, Africa owes much of its recent economic growth to the use of telecommunications services. However, over the past few years, telcos in Africa have been hit by several telecom frauds. SIM box fraud, also known as the interconnect bypass fraud, is one of the major frauds affecting the dynamic telecom market in Africa. The impact is huge in terms of the loss in revenues to telcos and taxes to the government. It is estimated that Africa loses up to 150 million US dollars every year to interconnection frauds. Reports suggest that two years back SIM box fraud had brought in losses of 12 to 15 million minutes’ worth of revenue to Kenyan government and operators, and about US$5.8 million to Ghana government.
Why SIM Box Frauds Target Africa?
- As per the industry reports, mobile subscriber growth in Africa is largely driven by the lower call prices and availability of cheaper handsets. The competition arising from over-the-top (OTT) providers has put an additional pricing pressure on telcos, forcing them to design new bundled offerings encompassing data, voice and SMS. Such bundles bring much lower per-minute revenue for the operators as compared to traditional services. Fraudsters operating the SIM boxes are taking advantage of this scenario to bypass the formal call termination systems that fetch higher tariffs to telcos. The calls routed through the IP networks are terminated using local SIM gateways, thus compromising the formal interconnection networks and bringing heavy losses to the telcos who have invested in building the networks. Traditionally, African countries are known to have higher interconnection tariffs compared to other regions, which further explains why such frauds are prevailing in Africa.
- If I were to look at data from google trends, one can also make out that Ghana in Africa seems quite buzzy about “Simbox Fraud” as a term to be searched on Google (till Nov, 2017)
- Technological advancements have also contributed for the rise in interconnection frauds. The growing sophistication around SIM box technologies has made fraud detection difficult using traditional methodologies. SIM boxes are programmed to mimic the activities of a normal call user. The equipment can have SIM cards of different operators installed, so a single SIM box can operate with several GSM gateways located in different parts of the world. The availability of SIM cards at cheaper prices and the lack of law enforcement over the sale of prepaid SIM cards have also favored the growth of SIM box fraud, further.
- Globally, the difference in approaches adopted by different countries to deal with the fraud makes it difficult for operators to develop a unified strategy to fight these frauds. IP interconnection services are treated as legal in a few countries whereas they are banned in other countries due to the regulatory issues associated with such activities. For example, the Ghanaian government has declared SIM boxes illegal and made several arrests in this regard. However, SIM boxes are now available in several open markets including popular e-commerce platforms for around $1000 per unit. To make the matter worse, OTT providers like Viber are now explicitly selling their call termination capabilities to lure roaming customers to such bypass activities. Another such OTT development I recently noticed is Skype offering Free calls to mobiles and landlines in the United States and Canada from India These evolving trends convey the scale at which the SIM fraud is growing, calling for immediate action from telcos to safeguard their revenue streams.
Unified approach for addressing Sim-box fraud:
To conclude, the recent developments around SIM box fraud have further aggravated the challenges faced by African telcos. With no scope for regulatory remediation, the only way forward for them is to prevent these attacks using advanced technologies. Traditional approaches like Call Detail Record (CDR) analysis are becoming ineffective in dealing with modern SIM box strategies due to the latency and false positives associated with those methods. As the market evolves, operators are looking toward a unified approach that can help them address the crisis in a much proactive manner. The developments around machine learning and test call group (TCG) analysis have favored the growth of an integrated solution that can help telcos combat the fraud in a cost-effective manner. The approach builds the capabilities of the traditional models but integrates the advancements in artificial intelligence and self-learning rules.
Watch this space for more updates on SIM box fraud management with cognitive analytics capabilities.
Neeraj leads digital marketing for Subex with focus on Website, Search, social media, mailer automation and MIS. In addition to this role, he also looks after product marketing for Revenue Assurance & fraud Management solutions for the company. He comes with over 8 years of experience spanning across sales, product and digital marketing.