'Please call me' service started at MTN - Ari Kahn

31 January 2019 - 14:40 By Iavan Pijoos
Former MTN consultant Ari Kahn remains adamant that he was the inventor of the "Please Call Me" idea.
Former MTN consultant Ari Kahn remains adamant that he was the inventor of the "Please Call Me" idea.
Image: Times Media

While the battle over compensation for "Please Call Me" inventor Nkosana Makate spilled over at Vodacom headquarters on Thursday, a former MTN consultant shed light on the back story to the cellphone service.

Ari Kahn, speaking on the talk radio 702 Breakfast show hosted by Bongani Bingwa, said the idea was not something new and originally belonged to MTN.

"It is not something new, to be fair. Vodacom have been telling me this for the past 10  years privately and I think they have come to a conscious point where they are saying they need to acknowledge the truth and the truth is what they are stating," Khan said, speaking from California in the US.

Khan came forward as the real "Please Call Me" inventor as far back as 2013.

He told Fin24 at the time that Vodacom had only profited because MTN chose not to enforce its Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) from the patent it was granted.  

He said that MTN had already sent hundreds of millions of "Please Call Me" messages over its public network before Vodacom launched their idea.

Kahn told 702 that 10 million MTN users had already used the same system that Vodacom had deployed.  

"The simple fact is what Nkosana Makate suggested to Vodacom, they never even developed or deployed. His buzz memo was not deployed back in 2001 and has not been deployed in the 18 years that have followed ... and what Vodacom actually developed, belonged to MTN," said Kahn.

"The simple story is, what he suggested led Vodacom directly to MTN's front door. They developed a product and the technology that was planned and owned by MTN."

Makate is expected to drag Vodacom back to court in a bid to fight the compensation offer made for the "Please Call Me" idea.

The Sowetan reported on Thursday that Makate has rejected an offer determined by Vodacom's CEO Shameel Joosub to compensate him for the idea. He said his legal team has already drafted court papers to have Joosub's determination reviewed.

"It is ridiculous and it is flawed, so on that basis we are going to review it," he told the paper. 

Makate and the cellphone giant have been embroiled in lengthy settlement negotiations. Earlier in January, Vodacom said they considered the matter settled and closed.

Makate however felt that the compensation offer was "ridiculous and insulting".

The former Vodacom employee claims he came up with the "Please Call Me" idea in 2000.

Vodacom's head of legal and regulatory affairs Nkateko Nyoka also admitted in an opinion that MTN launched its idea a month before Vodacom.

"Firstly, 'Please Call Me' was an idea, but not an original one. Secondly, Mr Makate's idea was just that: a bare idea, which still had to be assessed for commercial viability and technical feasibility. Neither did Mr Makate provide any capital outlay nor assume any risk, as any entrepreneur would do in the circumstances," said Nyoka.

Kahn said that no one said that "anyone has stolen anything".

"What happened is that all the players behaved very poorly and badly on this entire story and Vodacom included.

"They developed a world-class technology through my invention and they launched services that changed the landscape," he said.

Kahn said he was not paid by MTN for his product.