One Network initiative creates cheaper calls in East Africa

The cost of communications across borders has plunged in East Africa following the decision by Safaricom to lower roaming rates.

Safaricom, East Africa’s largest telecom operator, has secured agreements with Africa’s largest operator, MTN, and the region’s second largest operator, Airtel Uganda. The deals enable subscribers to receive calls for free while in Uganda and a flat rate of Sh10 ($0.11) for calls to other East African countries including Tanzania and Burundi. Previously, the rates were as high as $2.40 per minute.

The slashing of the high communications cost in East Africa is as a result of the One Network Area initiative—a plan for East African telecom integration. Safaricom has also already implemented the initiative with all operators in Rwanda, resulting in a reduction of retail roaming and international calling rates by 60 percent.

South Sudan is soon expected to join the One Network Area initiative.

As in many regions of Africa including Southern Africa, East Africa faced high communications costs despite a multitude of mobile phone operators operating there.

“This is a significant step towards greater East African integration,” Safaricom CEO Bob Collymore said. “A reduction of this kind will boost trade opportunities between these two East African countries.”

In May last year, a meeting of ICT ministers and heads of state from the Northern Corridor of Uganda, Rwanda, Kenya and South Sudan resolved to establish the One Network Area, which was supposed to have been implemented by Sept. 1, 2014.

Though delayed by about four months, the initiative has now been implemented and has so far made East African the cheapest in terms of communications costs in all of Africa.

Already, the initiative is having a ripple effect in Southern African, where up to now the cost of local and roaming rates have remained high.

The policy committee of the Communication Regulatory Authorities of Southern Africa (CRASA) is meeting in Malawi to discuss new initiatives to help bring down the high cost of communications. The committee is discussing a “roam like home” plan and an open access policy whose aim is to regulate high roaming rates and charges incurred by countries in Southern Africa when connecting to the submarine fiber cables.

CRASA Executive Secretary Tony Chigaazira told the media this week that the committee is working at developing new policies and regulatory guidelines for the region.

“Among the issues with are discussing is the roaming processes called ‘roam like at home’ where when one is roaming, they should use the same line they use at home and the same rate with a small charge which is transparent,” Chigaazira said.

However, the region’s bid to come up with harmonized regulations is hampered by different regulatory regimes, which Chigaazira said CRASA is trying to overcome.

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