Just yesterday we published an article in which we wrote that Econet wireless had launched a value added service (VAS) promotion that is in many ways very similar to a promo Telecel launched just two weeks ago. It’s an SMS based QnA service where the provider sends questions to subscribers and the subscribers get points for responding with the correct answer. The MNO cashes in on the premium SMS rate on each response, and the subscriber hopes to win daily, weekly and a grand prize. It’s a simple but clever way to make more money by the MNO, hence the title of our article yesterday.
Well, someone says Telecel stole the concept from them.
In an article published in the Herald this morning, two companies – a local one by the name Mobile Connexion, and Jet Telecom – are jointly claiming the idea was stolen from them. The two VAS companies apparently proposed the concept (including the name Mega Promo) to Telecel but have found that Telecel is now running the promotion, with the exact same name, without them.
So Mobile Connexion is demanding US $340,000 from Telecel and says if Telecel doesn’t give in they’ll take the matter to the courts.
Telecel, on the other hand says the concept is generic, that it’s used across Africa already and that they were already working on something similar when Mobile Connexion submitted the proposal. Telecel also says that they never agreed to anything with two companies anyway. Telecel’s Communications and Branding Director, Obert Mandimika, is quoted by the Herald explaining that the concept has been in operation by their parent company in Egpyt (Orascom) for five years now:
We entertained the idea of working with these guys, but nothing was ever agreed. When we went to Burundi we were told by our parent company the concept had been operational for five years in Egypt and was a major revenue earner
On there being no agreement, lawyers representing Mobile Connexion say the agreement was partly verbal and partly written and that Telecel officials had “agreed” to a final proposal which Mobile Connexion had prepared.
It’s not the first time we’ve heard such stories. In fact we get mobile VAS techies narrating such stories to us every now and again. We also get similar stories from executives in mobile companies who also point out the ugly side of engaging some VAS providers. It’s that kind of fallout that is bound to happen as VAS entrepreneurs jostle to eat from Africa’s mobile cake. And it is why Zimbabwean VAS entrepreneurs, and indeed the mobile operators themselves, need a self-regulating VAS companies body. Without it, without an organization whose sole mandate is to make these relationships clear and help resolve and disputes, the rules are not clear, and this will happen again and again.