MTN, not Vodacom, first launched “Please call me” service in South Africa


The controversy surrounding the “Please call me” service in South Africa has taken a new twist with new revelations emerging over the initial launch and ownership of the patent, a development that has now brought in MTN (Vodacom South Africa’s rival) into the mix.

An article published by mybroadband states that it is MTN which was the first to launch and use the service in South Africa, and not Vodacom as has become to be assumed by many.

The article, published on May 5, further reveals that MTN actually holds the patent to the “Please call me” service and not Vodacom or Nkosana Makate.

“MTN owns a patent on the concept on which the Please Call Me service is based, and which was filed on 22 January 2001. Ari Kahn, who previously consulted for MTN, was behind the idea and the patent. MTN launched the ‘Please Call Me’ service soon afterwards – six weeks ahead of Vodacom,” states the article.

The article quotes Ari Kahn, MTN former consultant stating thus: “There is a law around intellectual property rights called Patent Law. Unless someone can show a patent to claim inventorship, they cannot claim to be the creator of the service,..So it doesn’t really matter what Makate, or anybody else for that matter within Vodacom, was developing at the time; the fact is they did not progress their ideas into intellectual property rights.”

“They did not launch before MTN launched. By the time Vodacom launched the service, MTN had already delivered millions of please call me messages on their public network,” Kahn stated according to the article.

There is also speculation that MTN threatened legal action against Vodacom when it launched “Please Call Me” in March 2001, but decided not to follow through. It adds that “Vodacom knows it was MTN which invented the ‘Please Call Me,’ and it decided to rather do legal battle with Makate than the well-resourced mobile rival,” in this case, MTN.

A recent court ruling directed Vodacom to negotiate a compensation package with its former staff, Nkasana Makate who claims he came up with the idea for the service within 30 days. 

MTN South Africa’s version of the “Please call me” service – also called “CallBack” –  is a free service that allows subscribers to send an SMS asking the other party to call back and are is ideal for pre-paid customers with insufficient airtime to make calls. To use the service, one dials *121* followed by the number of the party then the # button.

Vodacom on the other hand offers subscribers up to 10 “Please call me” messages per day by dialing *140*followed by the recipient’s phone number then the # button.