A new African roaming alliance leads the way

“In Africa,” said Bill Clinton several years ago, “for every million new mobile subscribers a country will add one percent to its GDP.”

“In my country,” said the head of BSS for Vodafone Nigeria several years ago, “every time we turn on a new switch it is swamped within the hour.”

Mobile technology is having an amazing effect on the economies of Africa. Traditional lifestyles are being thrown out and economies are booming or beginning to boom. M-pesa is held up as one of the success stories of the decade and carriers are trying to emulate it in other parts of Africa – and elsewhere.

In roaming too, parts of Africa are showing the way. This week it was announced that roaming charges will be scrapped in a new One Network area by the end of the year. Although the regulation and subsequent agreement between Rwanda, Southern Sudan, Kenya and Uganda covers voice roaming, it is set to make a huge difference as calls between the countries are treated as local. It will be comparable to the Bridge Alliance in Asia, where 36 communications companies have come to a similar arrangement.

Compare this to Europe, where the Regulator is still under siege from the big players, particularly Vodafone, to delay the end of roaming data charges. This was meant to have happened by now, but Vodafone (and others) are lobbying that it will stifle investment. Kroes has responded by saying ‘pull the other one,’ and her spokesman has publically said that “Vodafone is not against roaming alliances, it just wants the monopoly on them.”

Kroes was ‘surprised’ (not) at her own research, which showed that 98 percent of European travellers limit their data usage when abroad and almost half of them switch it off all together. It is no better between Europe and the US. A BillingViews operative switched his data off within three minutes of switching his phone on and getting a message telling him he had already used £10 of data.

We have said before that we believe we are at a tipping point. The number of travellers who will leave their data on if the prices were sensible, versus the amount of extra, artificial revenues gained from keeping roaming charges does not stack up anymore. It is time to change.

The One Network alliance ‘will reduce the cost of calls among Rwanda, Uganda, South Sudan and Kenya by an average of 60 percent. This is expected to increase cross-border trade and exchanges.’

It is time to follow the African lead.

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About Alex Leslie 400 Articles
Alex was Founder and CEO of the Global Billing Association (GBA), a trade body focused on the communications sector. He is a sought after speaker and chairman at leading industry conferences, and is widely published in communications magazines around the world. Until it closed, he was Contributing Editor, OSS/BSS for Connected Planet.

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