TELECOMS

MTN copies Zain’s free roaming scheme

Competitive pressure is forcing MTN to eliminate roaming fees for users travelling between different countries, in a move that could noticeably dent its profit . The cellular operator has not yet wiped out roaming fees across its networks, but has tested the feasibility of doing so in Cameroon, Ghana and Nigeria.

Last week it said it would introduce free roaming across all 21 countries where it operates in the first half of next year . Benin will be the next country to benefit, joining the trio of pilot countries by the end of this month.

Rival operator Zain demonstrated that free roaming is perfectly possible way back in September 2006 when it launched its "One Network" service, letting users cross between Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda without paying high roaming fees. Nor do they pay to receive incoming calls when they travel -- another favourite way for operators to inflate their profits.

Zain has now extended One Network into most of the 22 countries where it operates, and said the money lost in potential roaming fees was more than recouped by winning extra customers.

Zain Africa CEO Chris Gabriel said last week other mobile operators were trying to emulate its innovative offerings but none had succeeded yet. "We seem to have the competitors frightened. They are attempting to imitate One Network and that's fantastic," he said. MTN is almost imitating the name too, dubbing its new service One World.

Callers will only pay the local rate charged in the country they are visiting, and will not pay for incoming calls. MTN said the move "underscores our commitment to continuously providing service innovations that improve services to our growing subscriber base and meet our customers' needs".

MTN's regional vice-president Tim Lowry said mobile operators had done themselves and their users a disservice for too long by following practices first devised by the fixed line phone industry. That included charging different rates for peak time and off-peak calls.

Business Day

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