Interview with James Claude: We have one goal, which is to allow regulators to defend their prerogatives.
What are the learnings from GVG’s actions in Africa, where the firm has been operating since its creation?
Following the telecoms liberalization in the 2000s, GVG became a key partner for regulators by allowing them to set up operators tax collection tools, starting with applying a micro-tax on international incoming calls thanks to the monitoring, which optimized the quality of service and State revenues, then gradually providing them with the necessary technological tools to make the right decisions.
What are the most emblematic examples?
In 2008, GVG deployed a monitoring platform in Congo Brazzaville for the whole telephone traffic. Since then, the local regulator has been an example in Central Africa. We have also achieved excellent results in partnership with the tax authorities and central banks in Tanzania, Rwanda and Ghana in the face of issues raised by the rise of mobile money. GVG started with a solution and today, eleven platforms meet the diverse needs of our partners in a dozen countries.
What are your anti-fraud and anti-money laundering devices, which are lesser known?
SIM box fraud, which makes it possible to place an international call for a local one via the Internet, results in a loss of revenue for the State and the operators, in addition to altering the quality of service. Our direct detection service for this type of fraud is the first of its kind. To date, millions of calls have been screened to identify more than 300,000 unique fraudulent numbers. Our anti-money-laundering solution, which is beginning to be rolled out, will complement and strengthen the mobile money transactions monitoring system by providing full visibility to money transfers, nationally and internationally.
As a technical provider of public authorities, do your missions necessarily go against the interests of mobile network operators?
We have one goal, which is to allow regulators to defend their prerogatives. By providing reliable and comprehensive information on the volume handled by each operator, the telephone traffic monitoring allows States to ensure the payment of what is really due to them, while avoiding penalties to operators for failure to bill. Through our action, we contribute to the visibility and transparency of the sector.
Beyond the national framework, to what extent do you contribute to the continent digitization?
Africa’s digital transformation involves a regional effort, hence the importance of our partnership with Smart Africa. By accompanying the continent on the path to a single digital market, GVG is a key partner of this Alliance, which is dedicated to Africa socio-economic development through the lever of ITC. It is a long-term project that is supported by the African Union and includes multiple levels such as infrastructures and digital identity, training, regulatory harmonization, data privacy, and so on. We shouldn’t replicate what has been done in Europe but adapt to the African reality by working for example on alternatives to optical fibre to interconnect African countries, which will allow to move forward much faster. Thanks to our long experience on the continent, we have a clear idea of the challenges authorities are facing, starting with the financing of ambitious digital programs and the lack of data available for decision-making. That’s why data collection and Big Data management are at the core of all our solutions.
Given the needs, what is GVG’s road map to contribute to the digitization of African countries?
When it comes to digital transformation, the issue of digital identity is central: it will enable citizens to participate actively in the digital economy. In many countries, civil status is failing, which excludes citizens from the real economy. Governments need to be made aware of this problem. One way to address this is to consolidate a database of telephone subscribers. Given the penetration rate of mobile telephony in Africa, this channel provides a solid basis for identifying the population. For now, it is a matter of registering the subscribers of the different operators in the common SIM registry platform in order to create a national database. Proper digital identification will enable governments to provide better services to citizens. Combined with our data acquisition platforms, it will help to better combat identity theft and other types of fraud associated with digital economy.
Why is Estonia seen as a digital nation model?
This small country of the former USSR has relied on new technologies to build its administration, becoming a world leader in digital transformation. Today, all services are available online, any act of daily life can be done with just a few clicks, even vote! In the last election, 60% of the population voted online. Digital identification is very well done, it is a model to follow, repeatable in Africa and that is why GVG settled its R&D centre there. Everything is a question of investment. If the vision is clear, the regulatory and institutional frameworks will follow.