Implementing Unified USSD Codes: A Game-Changer for Mobile Network Operators in Nigeria
Mobile network operators in Nigeria have taken a significant step towards harmonizing USSD codes, introducing a unified code framework.
This move comes as a directive from the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) in March 2023, aiming to streamline USSD services across all network providers.
With a deadline set for May 17, 2023, this article explores the impact of unified USSD codes on mobile operators and the reasons behind the NCC’s push for harmonization.
The New Mtn USSD Code Framework
Under the review conducted by the NCC, the new USSD codes have been established for various services.
These codes include:
1. NIN — *996#
2. VAS — *305#
3. Share services — *321#
4. Account Balance — *310#
5. Data plans — *312#
6. Airtime recharge — *311#
7. Borrowing services — *303#
8. Data balance — *323#
While some network providers have implemented these codes fully, others are still in the process of transitioning.
For example, MTN has incorporated all the codes except for data plans, while Airtel is missing the code for airtime recharge.
However, it is expected that all network providers will soon complete the implementation of these changes.
Understanding Unified USSD Codes
Unstructured Supplementary Service Data (USSD) is a telecommunications system enabling users to perform specific functions without requiring an internet connection.
It has gained popularity in sub-Saharan Africa, initially used by telecommunications operators and later adopted by the banking industry.
USSD codes facilitate various actions, including checking airtime balance, airtime recharge, and accessing value-added services.
The Significance of Harmonization
Before the introduction of unified USSD codes, different service providers had their unique codes for various purposes, causing confusion for users.
For instance, sending airtime and checking airtime balance would require different codes.
Given that many Nigerians use multiple network providers, the NCC recognized the need to harmonize these codes.
This initiative allows subscribers of one network, such as MTN, to utilize the same code for airtime recharges on other networks like Airtel or Glo.
The Motivation Behind NCC’s Push
The NCC has been advocating for the harmonization of USSD short codes since 2017.
Conducting research and hiring a project consultant, they identified several benefits, including:
1. Simplifying user experience: By eliminating the need to remember multiple codes, a unified USSD system enhances convenience for users.
2. Reallocation of codes: Implementing the unified system frees up a significant number of 3-digit, 4-digit, and 5-digit codes, promoting efficient resource allocation.
3. Stimulating competition: The NCC believes that harmonization will encourage healthy competition among telecommunications service providers.
4. Streamlining marketing efforts: A unified USSD code framework facilitates consistent and streamlined marketing campaigns for network operators.
However, the NCC’s report also acknowledges potential disadvantages, such as the need for network providers to reconfigure their equipment and the possibility of customer attrition due to the code changes.
Impact on Banking Services
Contrary to the unified USSD codes covering telecommunication services, banking services remain unaffected.
The NCC’s report recommends that banks retain their existing codes to ensure uninterrupted service delivery.
Gbenga Adebayo, Chairman of the Association of Licensed Telecom Operators, confirms that users can continue using banking services without any interference.
The implementation of unified USSD codes marks a significant milestone for mobile network operators in Nigeria.
By streamlining code formats and enhancing user experience, this harmonization effort brings simplicity and unity across all networks.