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WASPA Celebrates 5th Anniversary With International Recognition and Growth Across the Continent

Released: 08 October 2009

The Wireless Application Service Providers' Association (WASPA), South Africa's representative body for mobile value-added service providers, has celebrated its fifth anniversary. Membership has grown from 31 WASPS in 2004 to 221 WASPS in 2009, representing an almost R3 billion Industry.

WASPA has also successfully handled a grand total of 18,350 complaints and queries from mobile consumers since 2005. The majority range from stop requests and information requests to a minority of serious contraventions of WASPA's Code of Conduct.

Leon Perlman, founding and current Chairman of WASPA, says the Association has come a long way since its launch in 2004. Based on its development of sound business practices and robust consumer protection measures, WASPA's constitution, processes and operational structures are being adopted by similar bodies around the continent, including Uganda, Namibia, Tanzania, and Madagascar.

WASPs provide a number of value-added mobile services, such as SMS voting for TV shows, competitions, interactive mobile games, ringtones, interactive dating services, banking and credit card notifications, and general subscriptions.

"The mobile value-added services industry has changed dramatically over the past few years. When we first started in 2004 it was an almost R800 million industry where almost 100% of the mobile value-added services were non-subscription based. It has now morphed into an almost R3 billion industry, where once-off, or 'a la carte', payment services now only account for 15% of the industry," he says.

Some 85% of the WASP market is now based on subscription services, where users are charged daily, weekly or monthly for services.

WASPA has had to adapt to these new market conditions, and is constantly evolving.

"The Association has evolved from a simple idea in 2003 into the world-class organisation it is today, with support from all three major mobile operators in South Africa," he says. Its is also now a leading member of IARN, the international association that regulates WASPs around the world. Perlman is also current chairman of IARN, and WASPA will host the bi-annual IARN members conference in Cape Town in December 2009.

Perlman says some of the key milestones WASPA achieved in such a short period of time were the establishment of its Code of Conduct which manages the huge industry growth through sound business and consumer protection rules, international recognition, as well as recognition by the Government as a robust organisation they can trust and consult with. It also works closely with similar bodies in South Africa such as the Advertising Standards Authortity, ICASA, the Lotteries Board, as well as the Mobile Networks Operators and TV stations.

Perlman says WASPA in its dual capacity as industry promoter and de facto industry regulator serves as an industry representative body, or IRB, as contemplated under Chapter 11 of the Electronic Communications and Transactions Act 25 of 2002. This Act gives WASPs certain rights in terms of service provider liability. WASPA intends applying to government for official recognition under the Act as an IRB so as to obtain these protections for its members.

In addition to a number of sub-committees, WASPA has a secretariat and dedicated team that handles consumer complaints efficiently and quickly in terms of its enforced Code of Conduct. It also employs a pool of 10 technology lawyers who adjudicate in terms of the WASPA Code of Conduct. WASPA has successfully handled over 18,000 complaints and queries from mobile consumers since 2005, and has issued fines and suspensions in terms of the Code.

All of its adjudications as well as the Code Of Conduct are available on the WASPA web site at www.waspa.org.za. The Code of Conduct is revised a number of times a year as new issues arise.

"While we have had to put quite strict measures in place in the past to regulate WASP services, it is for the benefit of consumers and the industry as a whole. WASPA today plays a critical role in the telecoms industry, and I believe without it, it the industry as well as consumers would not have had the robust protections and growth they have now," he says.

In its role as industry promoter, WASPA has also organised WASP representation at international trade shows, as well as linking local WASPs with opportunities from international players. A number of local WASPs have opened offices around the world, and many now provide local support to international WASPs.

Perlman indicates that WASPA's goal from its inception was to instill a degree of trust in consumers that mobile phones are legitimate payment devices, not only to do pay for ringtone-type micro payments, but also for larger-value macro payments for non-digital goods. "The industry is moving towards true mobile commerce. Locally, the first iteration of mobile payments was through premium-rated services. That market has now matured, as they are all around the world and we are now seeing the move to a separate 'mobile purse' to pay for high value services and goods," he says.

"With general communications costs coming down, consumers will have more money to spend on value added services. Mobile phones are also becoming premier payment tools, not just for digital goods, but for buying conventional items such as plane tickets and restaurants," he says.

Looking to the future, Perlman says WASPA will continue to enforce rules to protect consumers and to ensure that there is a level playing field for all in the industry, as well as play a promotional role in promoting the adoption thereof.

"WASPA certainly needs to look at the mobile landscape as it all unfolds, and possibly change its rules around and fine-tune its structures, if necessary, to adapt and change along with the industry. We are five years young, and still have much to learn," he concludes.

ENDS


About WASPA

WASPA represents the mobile development; value added services and content services community in South Africa. After lobbying the mobile operators and WASPs in late 2003 for an industry body, WASPA's formative meeting was held in August 2004. Membership of WASPA was made mandatory by the mobile operators and TV stations for any company doing value added services in South Africa.

WASPA's remit is to promote and self-regulate the WASP industry. As part of the self-regulatory component of WASPA, there is the now internationally recognized and emulated self-regulatory regime for mobile value added services that includes the WASPA Code of Conduct & Advertising Rules. WASPA's Code of Conduct regulates inter alia, competitions, chat, adult services, spam, CRM, advertising of services,subscription services and pricing. The first version of the Code was passed in June 2004 and implemented on 1 September 2005. It has been updated numerous times as the need has arisen.

Enforcement of the Code & Advertising Rules is achieved by a novel quasi-judicial system that consists of a procedure for lodging and responding to complaints where it is thought the Code is being contravened. Adherence to the Code and the Advertising rules is mandatory for all providers operating in South Africa.

ICT lawyers acting as WASPA adjudicators will find on the merits and have the power to suspend, fine, expel any WASP or Information Provider found to contravene the Code rules. Adjudications are enforced through contractual provisions in all WASP agreements. There is also a 3-person appeals panel as well as an emergency panel.

Issued by:

Ivan Booth
Reliable Sources PR
082 851 7419
ivan (at) reliablesources.co.za