Data Roaming Charges to Fall within 4 East African countries

Telecoms

It will be easier and cheaper to use your data bundles on different telecommunication platforms within four East African countries from July 1, following the adoption of a price cap per megabyte on mobile data roaming scheme.

Across all the networks, Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda and South Sudan have agreed on a proposal of a maximum retail tariff of $0.11 per MB inclusive of taxes, billed on a per-kilobyte basis.

A maximum inter-operator tariff of $0.07 per MB has also been adopted. The implementation of these tariffs will however be reviewed periodically.

The development follows an earlier directive by the EAC heads of state to the four countries that telecommunications companies in the region remove tariff charges for short message services (SMS) and data in order to fully implement the One Network Area initiative they adopted in 2014.

The drop in roaming charges is expected to stimulate growth in the telecommunications sector and promote cross-border trade.

High data costs while roaming have seen most mobile users shift from the use of data tariffs and adopt over-the-top services such as WhatsApp, Viber and Hangout.

In Uganda, for example, an operator using fibre optic cable charges Safaricom subscribers $0.4 per MB while those using satellite charge $0.7 per MB. Airtel charges a standard rate of $0.5 per MB for data roaming in Uganda and Rwanda.

Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda and South Sudan last year adopted the harmonised money transfer guidelines and uniform rates developed by their central banks and communications commissions with the aim of boosting trade in the region.

The cost of an SMS while roaming in Rwanda and Uganda is $0.12 in bundles and $0.22 out of bundle while in Kenya an SMS costs $0.11 in bundles and $0.2 out of bundle.

The wholesale price for SMSs within the region shall not be more than $0.03 per SMS, inclusive of all applicable taxes, while the retail price shall not exceed $0.06 per SMS.

Calls within the network have already reduced by $0.12 per minute while there are no charges for incoming calls since the implementation of the One Network Area.

SIM card registration

Partner states have been directed to fast-track both the establishment of a monitoring system to detect and prevent fraudulent calls (known as grey traffic) and the adoption of a regional broadband strategy.

The four partner states are also expected to complete the harmonisation of their legal and regulatory framework for effective SIM card registration.

Kenya and Rwanda have completed linking their SIM card registration to their national ID databases. Uganda's issuance of IDs has begun and parliament has approved the Registration of Persons Bill, which is awaiting assent by the president. The Bill provides for linking SIM card registration with the national ID database.

South Sudan's national ID database is in place and SIM card registration is ongoing for the five per cent of South Sudanese in the national database but not linked to the national ID database.

Some of the challenges noted in implementing the One Network Area are grey traffic, and the absence of harmonised regulations for mobile financial services across the region.

Eight African countries, who are members of the Smart Africa Initiative, recently agreed to join the East African countries in implementing the One Africa Network that will see harmonisation of tariffs on mobile voice calls, SMS and data transmission. They are Ivory Coast, Gabon, Mali, Senegal, Chad and Burkina Faso.
Source: The East African 26 April 2016