Statistics from the National Communications Authority (NCA) on mobile cellular activity between Ghana and the rest of the world indicate that both international incoming and outgoing mobile-to-mobile voice calls are on the decline.
The statistics, contained in the 2016 third quarter bulletin of the NCA, indicates that inbound international traffic decreased by 7.5 million minutes (4.8%) from 155.8 million minutes in the third quarter of 2015 to 148.3 million minutes in the third quarter of 2016.
Meanwhile, outbound international traffic for the same period also decreased marginally by 0.4% from 178.95 million to 178.23 million minutes.
The year-on-year international voice traffic followed a similar trend with a 14 percent slump in the annual volume of inbound international traffic from 172.4 million minutes in the third quarter of 2015 to 148.3 million minutes in the third quarter of 2016.
Outbound international traffic also decreased by 24.4 million minutes (12.0%), from 202.6 million minutes in the third quarter of 2015 to 178.2 million in the third quarter of 2016.
This did not include the millions of minutes of calls that went through over the top (OTT) channels like WhatsApp, Facebook, IMO, Viber, Tango, Skype and others, which users, both here and abroad, find more affordable.
It also could not account for how many calls may have gone through unapproved routes like sim boxes.
Meanwhile, anti-SIMBOX efforts between the NCA, Afriwave Telecoms, and the telcos, over the period, detected and deactivated several thousands of fraudulent SIM cards, which possibly accounted for millions of minutes of calls that the NCA could not capture.
In the third quarter of 2016, Afriwave made 1.32million test calls and that led to the detection and blocking of 15,182 SIM boxes containing tens of thousands of fraudulent SIM cards.
But even that was an 81 per cent drop from that of the second quarter, where Afriwave detected and blocked 81,844 sim boxes following a little over 1.3million test calls.
However, on the domestic scene, there was an increase in voice traffic in the third quarter after it declined in the previous quarter.
Total voice traffic grew by 4.3% from 14.80 billion minutes in the second quarter of 2016 to 15.44 billion minutes in the third quarter same year.
Out of that figure, on-net traffic increased by 5.4 percent from 9.60 billion minutes in the second quarter of 2016 to 10.12 billion minutes in the third quarter, while off-net traffic also increased by 2.1 percent from 5.21 billion minutes to 5.32 billion minutes (2.1%) over the same period.
The year-on-year traffic also followed the same trend, indicating some 18 per cent increase in on-net calls and 4.6 percent increase in calls from one network to the other.
Year-on-year total mobile traffic also increased by 13.05%, from 13.76 billion minutes in the third quarter of 2015 to 15.44 billion minutes in the third quarter of 2016.
Calls per user
At the micro level, the minutes of calls made by each user or SIM card also showed a 1.9 percent increase across the board, from 134 minutes per user in the second quarter of 2016 to 137 minutes in the third quarter.
This represents an average of 3 minutes’ increase in the minutes of use per subscription over the period.
But there was a marginal 0.7 per cent decline in the year-on-year minutes of use from 138 minutes to 137 minutes.
SMS toughens up
The total volume of Short Messaging Service (SMS), increased by 26.5% from 511,858,875 in the second quarter of 2016 to 647,671,344 in the third quarter of 2016.
On annual basis, the SMS volume increased by 30.7% from 495,446,559 in the third quarter of 2015 to 647,671,344 same period 2016.
This is a drastic turnaround from what happened between the second quarter of 2015 and the same period 2016. That period saw a 25.2 percent decline in the total number of SMS sent within and between telecom networks in Ghana.
Indeed, web-based messaging platforms like WhatsApp, Facebook messenger, Viber, and others have posed a threat to SMS for a while now, but telcos' mobile value added services and customer reward promotions, which are usually SMS based, are winning the game for SMS.
The two leading mobile operators, MTN and Vodafone accounted for more than half (66.5%) of the total number of SMS in the third quarter of 2016.
MTN recorded 256 million SMS, representing 39.6% of the total SMS for the third quarter of 2016, followed by Vodafone with 174 million SMS (26.9%).
Tigo had 153 million SMS (23.7%), while Airtel had 59 million (9.1%) and Glo had 4 million (0.7%). There was no data on SMS transaction by Expresso in the third quarter of 2016.
SMS per user
Average SMS per subscription increased by 24.2% from an average of 14 SMSs per subscription in the second quarter of 2016 to an average of 17.4 SMSs per subscription in the third quarter of 2016.
This means that on average, a subscriber sent or received 17 SMS in the third quarter of 2016.
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