What You Should Know About NCC's Harmonised Short Codes

The NCC Introduces Harmonised Shortcodes To Ease Service Delivery For Over 200 Million Telecom Customers In Nigeria

07:58 PM WAT, Mon May 22, 2023

In March, the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) directed mobile network operators to begin implementation of approved harmonised short codes, HSC, for providing certain services to telecom customers in Nigeria.

This was in line with the commission's goal in developing and implementing a consumer-centric approach to telecom regulation in the country.

The harmonised short codes basically allow customers of MTN, Airtel, Globacom, and 9mobile, to use the same short codes for different services. For example, with the short code *312# all telecom customers can access data plans.

In a statement signed by Director, Public Affairs, Reuben Muoka, the NCC gave May 17, 2023 as the deadline for mobile network operators to implement the approved short codes. The NCC added that the period between March and May 17, 2023 was provided by the NCC to enable telecom customers to familiarise themselves with the new codes for various services.

The four major mobile network providers in Nigeria: MTN, Globacom, Airtel and 9Mobile began sensitising customers of the harmonised short codes through Short Message Service (SMS), digital ads and Interactive Voice Response (IVR).

As the May 17 deadline elapses and the old codes become inoperational, it is believed that telecom users are significantly acquainted with the harmonised short codes for ease of service and have begun using the short codes to access services and products from their respective mobile network operators.

Why Was The HSC Policy Introduced?

The harmonised short codes, HSC, initiative began when the NCC assumed administration and allocation of all short codes with a view to provide a cohesive regulatory framework and establish best practices, as well as harmonise the short code database in Nigeria in 2011.

During that time, the commission released comprehensive guidelines on short codes operation in Nigeria. The guidelines were principally intended to prescribe a standard of practice for providers of short code services and to provide a framework for the provision of these services.

Later in 2017, the NCC began working on the harmonisation of Unstructured Supplementary Service Data, (USSD) short codes and employed Molcom Multi Concepts Limited as a project consultant. Molcom was meant to aid the NCC in harmonising all short codes and develop a national short code plan (NSCP) for the industry.

In a finalised report released in 2018, the NCC disclosed that the most important benefit would be a notable reduction in the need for end users to commit to memory different codes for each network for common network services thereby enhancing consumer experience. It added that 84% of 3-digit codes, 98% of 4-digit codes, and 99% of 5-digit codes would be free for reallocation once the harmonised short codes are implemented.

The NCC held that the HSC would make information less confusing to potential customers, streamline marketing efforts drastically and stimulate easier and faster launch of new services across all networks.

However, the report revealed that HSC challenges on telecom operations would include increased marketing cost (cost of customer education, enlightenment and re-branding), possible post – harmonization service disruptions and network instability and significant network equipment re-configuration.

The comprehensive report served as the building block for the HSC framework which is now being implemented.

How Do The Short Codes Benefit Nigerian Telecom Consumers

Unified and Singular System

Prior to the HSC implementation, every mobile network operator, MNO, had its own short codes for various services. Although Nigerians got used to using different short codes on different networks, it wasn't an easy way of accessing telecom services. With HSC, there is a singular system that makes access seamless and less stressful for every telecom customer.

Ease of Service

The NCC revealed that the HSC was done to make life easier for telecom customers. It is a fact that an average Nigerian with one sim card will have to memorise between three and five short codes to access different services. The HSC will improve customer experience with telecom customers nationwide as the same codes work for the same services.

Facilitate Mobile Network Portability

In its 2018 report, the NCC revealed that the HSC will make portability from one network to the other easier for telecom customers. When subscribers port from one network to another, they do not have to learn new short codes to access critical network services on their new network. This makes information less confusing to potential customers.

Stimulate Access to New Services

With HSC, telecom operators can easily roll out a new service for customers across all networks and these customers can easily access them without any hassle.

Are There Other African Countries That Have Introduced HSC?

Nigeria is not the only African country that has implemented HSC for telecom operators and customers. In 2014, Ghana's National Communications Authority, NCA, successfully harmonised and implemented common (uniform) service short codes for accessing key networks. The NCA developed 8 unique HSC to access telecom services.

The initiative was reportedly taken following the widespread abuse, confusion, disparity and inefficiency in the use of short codes in Ghana by industry players. A year after that, the NCA also harmonized all short codes used for mobile value-added services across all telecom networks in Ghana.

Similarly, in March 2016, South Africa's Independent Communication Authority of South Africa (ICASA) started a mandatory new harmonized common service code regime that required all cellular networks to standardize certain network service short codes that include: customer care, voice mail deposit/retrieval and prepaid credit recharge/balance amongst others.

What Are The Short Codes, And How Do You Use Them

There are 13 HSC approved by the NCC and all of them do pretty much the same things as the former codes for each service on each telecom line.

Buy Airtime/ Data Subscription

Simply dial *312# to get data or purchase airtime

Data Plan Balance

To check your data plan balance, dial *323#

Account Balance

Simply dial *310# to check account balance on all networks

Call Centre

Simply dial 300 to speak with call centre on all networks

Voice Mail Deposit

To send a voicemail, dial *301#

Voice Mail Retrieval

To retrieve voicemail messages, dial *302#

Borrow Services

To borrow airtime and data, dail *303#

STOP Services

To access Stop Service, dial *304#

Credit Recharge

To recharge your line with a PIN, dial *311#

Shared Services

To to share airtime and data, dial *321#

Verification of SIM Registration/ NIN – SIM Linkage

To verify SIM registration and SIM linkage, dial *996#

Porting Services (MNP)

To port your number to another network, dial 3232

Do Not Disturb (DND)

To access the unsolicited messaging complaint management, dial 2442.

Accessing these codes is straightforward. For example, if you want to call customer care on any of the mobile networks, all you need to do is dial 300. This means dialling 300 on MTN, Airtel, Glo and 9mobile will connect you to their customer care centre.