The astonishing story behind the Please Call Me fight between Vodacom and MTN

Jola

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BTW, the cell operators in SA had absolutely exorbitant SMS rates, and this is one of the reasons why a PCM type of feature was needed.

In the USA, for example, texts were typically free and included in contracts, even basic ones (they never used to really support prepaid there, still don't really).

So you did not need PCM in the USA, you could just send someone a text and ask them to call you.

SMS's are still outrageously priced in SA, and this is where the operators shot themselves in the foot, because this caused the very rapid adoption of alternatives (first MXit, and then WhatsApp), and now they are complaining about losing business to WhatsApp.

Vodacom and MTN's predatory sms pricing policies created the infrastructure for the huge adoption of WhatsApp in this country. And before that, the need for PCM.

I have great difficulty getting friends in the USA to use WhatsApp, they have free texts (even internationally), so just can't be bothered.
 
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Jola

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Except it's not the same.

In the traditional landline reverse charge system the caller initiates a no-charge voice call to an operator at the PSTN. Without terminating the voice call session, the operator calls the intended called-party and asks whether they are prepared to accept the call charges. If they agree, the two parties are connected and the charges are carried by the party called, all within the same single voice session.

This is not what happens with PCM.

As I understand it, there is no prior voice session and thus no reverse charge. There is only a single voice session initiated by the person who received a PCM message. They are invoiced in exactly the same way as any other call.

The fact that the PCM is sent electronically is technically incidental and contractually irrelevant. There is no reverse charge.

In my view, the reverse-charge argument / analogy is mistaken and a red herring.


We will have to agree to disagree, in my mind it is exactly the same.

BTW, I can remember that I had to book reverse charges calls (when the lines were busy), and then it was even more similar.
 
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Arthur

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We will have to agree to disagree, in my mind it is exactly the same.

BTW, I can remember that I had to book reverse charges calls (when the operators were busy), and then it was even more similar.
OK. It's not really ad rem anyway.

I just can't see where charges are being reversed...it's still caller pays. But let's maar leave it.
 

Geoff.D

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Except it's not the same.

In the traditional landline reverse charge system the caller initiates a no-charge voice call to an operator at the PSTN. Without terminating the voice call session, the operator calls the intended called-party and asks whether they are prepared to accept the call charges. If they agree, the two parties are connected and the charges are carried by the party called, all within the same single voice session.

This is not what happens with PCM.

As I understand it, there is no prior voice session and thus no reverse charge. There is only a single voice session initiated by the person who received a PCM message. They are invoiced in exactly the same way as any other call.

The fact that the PCM is sent electronically is technically incidental and contractually irrelevant. There is no reverse charge.

In my view, the reverse-charge argument / analogy is mistaken and a red herring.

The principle remains. A Calling Party wants to make a call to a Called Party but does not have the funds. He would make a call to an operator who would pass on a message to the Called Party, who would then accept the charge and the call would be put through.
With the technology available at the time, the process was voice driven with an intermediary, the Operator.

When Automatic dialling was introduced, the problem was there was no operator involved and hence the voice-driven option fell away, UNLESS of course you specifically made a call to an operator. (In SA, for many years, there were still operators available for this very reason for all local calls. Later, these positions were only available for International calls).
We then worked on numerous ways to "automate" the process. Some were via an Operator as of old, others involved a special service number which you could dial free of charge, enter in a code, and then the number you were seeking, which would then "signal" the called party to effectively indicate to him that a reverse call was requested, which he then responded to by dialling a digit, and the call would go through.

Hence, this is exactly the same as the system set up by VC at the time. The calling party would send a USSD code (generally free of charge), the system would then send an SMS message to the called party ( Please call me) together with the number that he should call giving him the option to dial the person or not.

The problem (at the time) was the GSM networks did not allow for a number to be dialled to completion without a contract in place or pre-paid time. Hence, the only aspect worth patenting was how you could, using the facilities of USSD codes and SMS achieve a "semi automatic" reverse charge process. Now that is what MTN patented. They did NOT patent call-back or reverse charges, they could not, various systems were already in use all over the world for the basic process.

Makate's "Buzz" system was in fact already in existence all over Africa, "invented" by the people, who would use their airtime effectively by dialling missed calls to numbers they wanted to reach with a number of rings as the signal. So not even that idea was patentable (if there is such a word).
BTW, I say "at the time" because now mobile networks have all sorts of facilities available that will and do allow a dialled number to reach completion without airtime available. (To pre-arranged numbers though, not to anyone). If this was not so, you would not be able to implement a system whereby emergency calls are allowed regardless of the status of a mobile device and SIM card in a mobile network.

If VC had taken the trouble to at the time of their court cases, get a real expert in telecommunications involved, all of this could have been explained in court and Makate's case would have collapsed completely at the outset.

In my opinion, the only legitimate case he has is that VC acknowledged his idea as a good one and VC should have made work of rewarding him according to their internal reward system for suggesting that it was necessary for VC to set up a process for call-back/reverse charges.

But given what I know about the players in VC at the time, I can quite see that their arrogance (from the CEO downwards) would make them believe that no junior in the accounts department could possibly out think them, they ignored the real issues and now they are where they are, in the dwang, with a court ruling to comply with based on bad information and no choice but to find a way out.
 
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Lucas Buck

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Well, if MTN has a public patent on a concept then it isn't possible for anyone else to invent that concept. So yes, it is very important, and is a good reason why Makate shouldn't get paid.
I disagree. He was proposing a value added service that would earn Vodacom money. An idea that no-one in his company seemed to be aware of. He stated beforehand what his conditions were for suggesting the idea. At that point Vodacom had the obligation to tell him the conditions under which they would pay him.
Their obligation to pay him has nothing to do with existing patents unless it was mentioned during their negotiations that an existing patent would negate any monetary reward.
Having a patent doesn't exclude someone else from making money from it. If Vodacom ended up paying mtn a fee for using their patent, they may have still ended up paying Makate, dependent on the terms decided during their negotiations with him.
 
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Geoff.D

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OK. It's not really ad rem anyway.

I just can't see where charges are being reversed...it's still caller pays. But let's maar leave it.

I can best explain it that from the point of view of the original Calling Party's point of view, it is a "Reverse Charge" - he is not paying for the call.
If you want, I can haul out the bible of Telephony Volume 1 published in 1947, which describes everything there is to know about the principals of Telephony, in which there are chapters devoted to charging systems.
Reverse Charging principals are covered, together with how this was achieved in a manual set up as well as in a "modern automatic anlogue exchange". That is how old the idea is.
Nothing chnaged when the exchnages were "digitised", the principals for setting up a call are still the same in switched network. The only findamantal change made is when you talk about "packet switched networks".
 
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Geoff.D

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BTW, the cell operators in SA had absolutely exorbitant SMS rates, and this is one of the reasons why a PCM type of feature was needed.

In the USA, for example, texts were typically free and included in contracts, even basic ones (they never used to really support prepaid there, still don't really).

So you did not need PCM in the USA, you could just send someone a text and ask them to call you.

SMS's are still outrageously priced in SA, and this is where the operators shot themselves in the foot, because this caused the very rapid adoption of alternatives (first MXit, and then WhatsApp), and now they are complaining about losing business to WhatsApp.

Vodacom and MTN's predatory sms pricing policies created the infrastructure for the huge adoption of WhatsApp in this country. And before that, the need for PCM.

I have great difficulty getting friends in the USA to use WhatsApp, they have free texts (even internationally), so just can't be bothered.

Spot on! And remember, in the USA their system used to (I am not sure if it has changed in the meantime) make BOTH the Calling Party AND the Called Party in a mobile network pay for airtime.
 

Jola

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Spot on! And remember, in the USA their system used to (I am not sure if it has changed in the meantime) make BOTH the Calling Party AND the Called Party in a mobile network pay for airtime.

That seems to vary by operator and plan.

Last time I used AT&T I paid to receive calls.
 

Jola

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I disagree. He was proposing a value added service that would earn Vodacom money. An idea that no-one in his company seemed to be aware of. He stated beforehand what his conditions were for suggesting the idea. At that point Vodacom had the obligation to tell him the conditions under which they would pay him.
Their obligation to pay him has nothing to do with existing patents unless it was mentioned during their negotiations that an existing patent would negate any monetary reward.
Having a patent doesn't exclude someone else from making money from it. If Vodacom ended up paying mtn a fee for using their patent, they may have still ended up paying Makate, dependent on the terms decided during their negotiations with him.

And I disagree with you, if MTN already had a patent on the concept then it was public knowledge, and not something that Makate could "invent".

But let's agree to disagree.
 

Lucas Buck

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And I disagree with you, if MTN already had a patent on the concept then it was public knowledge, and not something that Makate could "invent".

But let's agree to disagree.

You can't patent a concept or an idea.
 

access

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a reverse charge replica would require me to call a person and they pay for the call.

please call me, is equivalent to a paging or a beeping service, where you get a message to call someone.


tbh, those devices were used for short messages services too before the cellphone.
 
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Jola

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a reverse charge replica would require me to call a person and they pay for the call.

please call me, is equivalent to a paging or a beeping service, where you get a message to call someone.


tbh, those devices were used for short messages services too before the cellphone.


You could also book a reverse charges call where a message was sent to the other party and he then called you back. Not at the same time, often because lines were busy.

So just like a PCM.
 

Jola

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So irrelevant. The patent issue was not dealt with at all in this guys case because it's irrelevant.

The word "patent" doesn't appear even once in the ConCourt judgement. The word "contract" appears many times:
http://www.saflii.org/za/cases/ZACC/2016/13.html

The MTN patent was briefly discussed in the High Court judgment of 2014: http://www.saflii.org/za/cases/ZAGPJHC/2014/135.html


Yes, but what people are saying is that Vodacom screwed up the court case, that if they had had their ducks in a row then Makate would have been sent on this merry way with nothing.

They also screwed up originally when they told Makate that they would pay him an indeterminate amount, without setting some boundaries/conditions. This is what the CC latched onto, not so much the fact the Makate did not invent anything.
 

Jola

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a reverse charge replica would require me to call a person and they pay for the call.

No, that is not correct.

There was a messenger service involved inbetween, performed by an operator, you could not talk to the other party. Exactly the same as sending an USSD message.
 

ISP cash cow

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*tinfoil hat on

Maybe Makate was a go between with regards to getting information on MTN's call me product and progress. Company espionage with a friend of his, based in MTN that might have known what was going on.

Vodacom can't come out saying they were getting information from the competitor on their products and so decided to claim that the "idea" came from Makate. Also hence the reason why the pay off

*tinfoil hat off.
 

Jola

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*tinfoil hat on

Maybe Makate was a go between with regards to getting information on MTN's call me product and progress. Company espionage with a friend of his, based in MTN that might have known what was going on.

Vodacom can't come out saying they were getting information from the competitor on their products and so decided to claim that the "idea" came from Makate. Also hence the reason why the pay off

*tinfoil hat off.

Who would know ?
 
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