Soon, roaming and termination fees (fees operators pay to roaming partners when customers make regional/international calls) among different carriers are going to be a thing of the past in the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) trade block. A total of 19 member states have signed a deal to cut the price of telecommunication hardware and technologies in a bid to boost competition and increase access to high-quality calls and pocket-friendly internet access.
In the past decade or so, more people have adopted the services of phones, especially those that access internet services owing to their favourable pricing and affordable data plans by telecom companies. However, many users in this bloc and Africa at large use a substantial amount of their income to pay for these services. For instance, studies have found that Africans pay on average a quarter their monthly gross national income per capita in mobile calls. That amount is twice as much as those in developing countries.
In a meeting held in Lusaka, Zambia, representatives from member states agreed that voice services in Africa are getting competitive and comparable to the rest of the world, although termination charges are still prohibitively high. Thus, it is hoped that the decision will boost free trade, as well economic and social strides, not to mention the growth of local businesses associated with technology.
These developments are not going to come cheap as member states need to heavily invest in digital infrastructure that will offer top-of-the-line network connectivity and offset insane data costs when roaming. This will be a crucial decision for operators who have seen their voice revenues dwindle as data takes precedence. While this might be the case, member states such as Kenya have recorded mobile data speeds that surpass those in some of the developed countries. At the same time, Kenya is still considering interoperability for mobile money services.
This move follows a similar one where the European Union (EU) abolished roaming fees for calls, texts and internet. Equally critical is the One Network initiative where East Africa Community head of states signed a deal that saw the reduction in roaming charges in member states. Safaricom cut down its cost for users in Rwanda by 60%. Specifically, roaming fees were reduced to KES 10 from KES 25 for calls back to Kenya. Calls to Rwandan networks went down to KES 10 from KES 17.50 per minute. Airtel followed suit by slashing the same fees to KES 9 per minute from KES 23 in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania.