Confessed SIM Boxer Warns Against Liberalisation of Telecoms Gateway
Under Jammeh regime, he was arrested and tried for causing economic loss to the state through SIM boxing. In 2018, he faced the court on similar charges but he was discharged by the judge. Kebba Macoumba Jallow is now ready to help the government fight against the practice, but warns that liberalising the international telecommunications gateway will make SIM boxing look like nothing.
SIM boxing also known as the interconnect bypass fraud, is a cybercrime. It is the practice of setting-up a device that can take up several SIM cards (a SIM box) and use it to complete international calls it receives from the Internet as voice over IP (VoIP) and in turn serve them to the in-country mobile network subscribers as local traffic. The SIM boxer bypass all international interconnect charges and often undercuts the prices charged by local mobile operators.
At age of 21, Jallow owned a computer company in the US – Macoumba Computers Network. By 1999/2000, he was already building computers and shipping them to The Gambia. In 2004, the multi-talented young man returned to The Gambia, pioneering Wi-Fi, and setting up free Wi-Fi in restaurants when the technology was even limited in the US and other advanced countries in the world.
In the 80s and the 90s, The Gambia telecommunications service provider, Gamtel, was one of the best service providers in Africa. Jallow said when analogue telephones were being used in the Gambia, it was a luxury in the US for anyone to have mobile phones.
Today, the arrow expressed is poised to the implementation of a policy meant to liberalise the operations of the Gambia’s international telecommunications gateway. In practice, it will be knocking out the country’s own operators to bring in private ones. And for Jallow, this isn’t necessary.
“Naturally, The Gambia is not a kind of market whose telecoms market needs to be liberalized. The Internet Service market on the other hand can be liberalised. But Tier 1 telecoms operation should not be liberalized, especially the gateway,” he told The Chronicle.
“It compromises national security, national interest and people’s lives. It does not make any logical sense for this country to liberalise the gateway.”.
When the Barrow government came into office in 2017, the telecoms market system was already bad enough. According to Jallow, the local market shouldn’t have allowed for the number of operators currently available.
“I don’t see any reason why a country like The Gambia should even have more than one mobile operator(s) – at most two. Even bigger economies like Senegal and Guinea Bissau as our closest neighbours do not have more than two operators,” he said, alleging that the current licensed operators are “highly incompetent”, compared to operators in the neighbouring countries which are multinational operators.
The international gateway
Operating the international telecommunications gateway for countries had been a nightmare. It was equally expensive at the time for any African government to manage a gateway. Big companies like AT&T, BT would build earth stations with satellites to transmit countries’ phone calls abroad, or bring them into our country. It was all easier for governments when the internet evolved in the past 20 years.
According to Jallow, small economies like The Gambia had “small brief case companies coming to their markets, and just gamble us” in this international gateway management systems. “They have manipulated us; we have lost a lot of revenue in this international gateway business and in mobile phone operations thanks to such operators.
He accused private companies of manipulating the sector, and controlling almost 95 per cent after falling from the market leader position. The Gambian shareholders in these companies are even insignificant, resulting to serious financial flows out of the economy. Gamtel only controls 5 per cent right now on local voice call market shares.
“This means that the main voice market right now for Gamtel is in the international gateway. If that is also taken away from Gamtel, it will just simply close down operations,” Jallow warned.
Taking shares from Gamcel
When asked how the national GSM operator, Gamcle, lost market dominance to private operators like Africell and Qcell, Jallow drew a scenario: “If you give license to a company that cares about nothing but profit to compete against a national company that serves a different purpose, the unfair competition begins from there.”
“A private company that began operations with used Alcatel equipment from South Africa, and a national company that began with brand new Alcatel equipment from France cannot share the same edge in competition. Gamcel began with brand new ones,” Jallow said.
“Most of these private operators also do not conform to the standards of telecommunications… there are hundreds, if not thousands of billboards across the country, asking consumers to subscribe for D3 in order to win few millions. What type of business does that? Is that promotions or lottery? Do their licenses allow them to operate like casinos or lotto?”
Jallow, who considers himself as a pioneer of Wi-Fi technology not just in Africa but around the world, is today an entrepreneur in the ICT sector; in VOIP (voice over internet protocol) technology, and Wi-Fi technology. He is both a bitcoin innovator an investor, and operates in block chain.
Jallow also operates VOIP interconnect around the world, and engaged into international carrier business. He alleged that “some fraudulent practices” in the Gambian markets are usually left unchecked, and they put the national operator at a big disadvantage.”
He now wants to help the government and the country to achieve “maximum results” from that telecommunications gateway, including monitoring and fraud management systems across the board; the billing system software that MGI removed from Gamcel following the termination of their contract and thereby crippling their operations.
Wi-Fi in Gambia
“The first Wi-Fi I set up in The Gambia was at Africell. They had problems with cabling structures inside the building and I thought that Wi-Fi was the solution….and it fitted well. That was the first Wi-Fi in The Gambia,” Jallow explained.
He continued: “As a matter of fact, around 2004/2005, there were no free Wi-Fi in restaurants even around the world. La Parisene was the first restaurant with free Wi-Fi, from Banjul to Dakar or all around Africa or the world. Even the United States did not have a free Wi-Fi in restaurants when I installed one for LP.”
Dragged to court for SIM boxing
SIM boxing is usually perceived as a crime in The Gambia, but for Jallow, it’s not a crime.
Arrested by the NIA and arraigned before a court twice for the act, he was never convicted for the practice and a Judge concluded that he must never be arrested for the perceived crime again. The prosecutors in The Gambia were unable to prove a case against him in all instances.
“Nobody knows SIM boxing more than me,” Jallow said.
He prefers SIM boxer to operate freely, to having private telecoms operators freely operating the country’s international gateway at the expense of national security and interest.
“Liberalisation will be the biggest loss to the country while we are preoccupied with chasing after small SIM boxers,” he argued.