Vodacom responds to COVID-19 emergency hotline mix-up

Vodacom has told MyBroadband it is working with ICASA for a solution to the recent mix-up over the 111 short code.

This follows ICASA harmonising and mandating the short code – which has long been used by Vodacom for its customer contact centre – as the COVID-19 national emergency services hotline.

The led to the National Department of Health’s COVID-19 contact centre being inundated with calls from Vodacom customers seeking assistance with their mobile products.

ICASA later stated that the assignment was not a mistake or done by accident, but that Vodacom was incorrectly continuing to use the number.

According to ICASA, the Numbering Regulations of 2016 harmonised the short code 135 for customer care services by all network operators.

This change came into effect on 24 March 2018, after which the short code 111 should have been decommissioned for customer care services.

However, ICASA Acting Chairperson Advocate Dimakatso Qocha said Vodacom did not complete the migration to the 135 short code.

“This did not happen despite Vodacom confirming in writing that the new short codes, including the customer care service code, were running parallel with the legacy short codes to ensure seamless transition to the newly harmonised short codes within the specified implementation timeframe,” Qocha said.

ICASA is now seeking written submissions to harmonise the 103, 104, 105, 106, 118, and 139 service codes for COVID-19 national emergency services during the National State of Disaster.

“In order to address this matter adequately and without compromising our intentions of facilitating access to the COVID-19 communication centres by South Africans, we have decided to engage on an urgent consultation to harmonise a new number to the Department of Health,” Qocha noted.

Vodacom responds

MyBroadband contacted Vodacom and asked the operator whether ICASA’s assessment of the matter was correct.

A Vodacom spokesperson said the operator was working with ICASA and the broader industry to come to a solution for all networks regarding the use of short codes, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic.

However, it acknowledged the process was a challenge.

“Migration and allocation of short codes across all networks is a challenging process for customers and operators alike, largely due to customers being accustomed to using certain numbers over the last few decades,” Vodacom said.

“Vodacom will continue to engage ICASA to find appropriate solutions in this regard,” it added.

Vodacom did not respond to questions over whether it had noted ICASA’s original notice to harmonise and mandate the 111 number for the COVID-19 emergency services hotline or informed its customers of the issue.

A quick Google search for “Vodacom customer care number” revealed no Vodacom web pages that still listed 111 as the official number.

The first page in the results indicated Vodacom’s current customer care number for speaking to a consultant is 082 135, while the second result was an official notice from Vodacom about the change in short codes.

A search for the cached versions of this page on Way Back Machine showed that Vodacom had published the notice at least as far back as December 2017.

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Vodacom responds to COVID-19 emergency hotline mix-up