WASPA Clarifies the Role of Industry Players

Published on: January 15, 2015

Mobile Satisfaction is Knowing Who to Talk to.

From its commercial launch in 1994, South Africa’s GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications) cellular industry has grown from a two-horse race focused on voice-based mobile services, to a mature and vibrant sector characterised by several different categories of players offering a plethora of voice and data-based services.

Because South Africa never had more than a few thousand subscribers on the analogue Siemens car phone network that preceded GSM, initial projections catered for some 250 000 cellular subscribers within ten years. Today, mobile penetration of the over 53 million-strong South African population is near 100%, helped in large part by the enormous investment in compelling mobile services and applications offered by the country’s Wireless Application Service Provider (WASP) industry.

Prior to the launch of the WASP industry a decade ago, the attractiveness of cellular was limited by the relatively small number of value-added services on offer by the two mobile networks at the time. Not only has the mushrooming WASP industry sparked the creation of tens of thousands of mobile applications and services, as well as the associated content, it has led to the emergence of entirely new categories of mobile industry role players.

The downside of this job-creation and GDP-boosting industry development is that it has left a fair number of mobile consumers confused. Today’s multilayered cellular industry means it’s not always easy to identifying who to approach in the event of a customer query. South Africa’s Wireless Application Service Providers’ Association (WASPA) outlines the different players in the mobile industry below in the hope that this will encourage transparency when it comes to customer interaction with the industry.

Mobile Network Operators (MNOs)

Sitting at the top of the pile, so to speak, are the MNOs who ‘own’ the relationship with the end mobile consumer by virtue of the fact that they operate the basic distribution elements such as the base stations that make mobile communications possible. Examples of MNOs are Vodacom, MTN, Cell C and Telkom Mobile.

The MNOs are fully-supportive of WASPA and its consumer protection mandate and have therefore implemented the double opt-in rule that has already seen a significant drop in consumer billing complaints. Before networks will deliver a mobile service or bill on behalf of a WASP, they will ensure they receive confirmation (second opt-in) from the consumer that they did indeed subscribe (first opt-in) to the service and are aware of the costs. Unless a consumer answers “Yes” to this SMS sent by the MNO, or verifies the service via the network hosted USSD confirmation page or the network hosted Confirmation Page, the service won’t be activated and the consumer will not be billed.

All MNOs have invested in state-of-the-art customer care centres that should be a mobile consumer’s first port of call when it comes to the vast majority of mobile-related queries. Consumers should determine their MNO’s help desk telephone number, or email address, and first attempt to resolve a specific query in this way. Typical customer queries directed to MNOs might relate to network coverage, network value-added services, handset upgrades, etc. Should the MNO be unable to assist, they might direct the client to one of the other mobile industry role players listed below.

Mobile Aggregators

Aggregators serve as the conduits through which requested mobile content and applications moves towards the mobile customer. Aggregators enable the links between providers of mobile content, or Information Providers (IP’s), and MNOs. As such, they are not directly involved in billing end users, but instead deliver billing information on behalf of their own clients (the mobile content / IP’s) to the MNOs who in turn bill the mobile customer.

Mobile Content Providers

Content providers, or IP’s, spend a great deal of time, energy and resources developing the kind of mobile content and applications that add value to the mobile experience. These firms use the services of aggregators to ensure local mobile users are able to easily access this content.

Cellular Service Providers

Although the South African cellular service provider (SP) model is no longer as prevalent as it once was, SPs such as Altech Autopage Cellular still exist to offer mobile users additional value-added services and features over and above those offered by their MNO. Because SPs are responsible for billing their own customers, the SP help desk should also serve as an initial port of call for customer queries.

The Wireless Application Service Providers’ Association (WASPA)

Formed in 2004 with a remit of representing and self-regulating the then fledgling wireless content and applications industry to ensure consumer protection, WASPA now has in excess of 300 members.

Effective from 26 August 2014, Version 13.1 of the WASPA Code of Conduct governs the way WASPA members interact with South Africa’s cellular users. Mobile users are invited to familiarise themselves with the WASPA Code – should they feel that a provider of mobile content and services has not conducted itself in accordance with the provisions of the Code, they are welcome to alert WASPA via the complaints procedure located on this website.


The Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) is the regulator for the South African communications, broadcasting and postal services sector. ICASA’s mandate is spelled out in the Electronic Communications Act for the licensing and regulation of electronic communications and broadcasting services, and by the Postal Services Act for the regulation of the postal sector.

Enabling legislation also empowers ICASA to monitor licensee compliance with license terms and conditions, which are applicable to all MNOs, and to ensure consumers protection in these industries. ICASA therefore regulates the MNOs and their relationship with mobile consumers.