One Area Network is a culmination of the regional telecommunications policy framework that was agreed upon by the member countries during the 5th Heads of State Summit for the Northern Corridor Integration projects in 2014. The network partners have executed multilateral agreements to put in place aligned and affordable tariffs across the participating countries within the one network area in Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda and South Sudan.
Members States agreed to amend fiscal policies by eliminating heavy additional taxes and levies on international calls within the region. The regional calls are now at parity with the tax base for local calls.
Government’s elimination of the additional direct taxes on regional calls has in turn enabled MTN Uganda to package affordable calling rates for both roaming and international calling within this area, designed around a common regional tax exclusive base rate of sh10 per minute.
MTN’s One Network offer enables an MTN Uganda subscriber (while roaming in Kenya, Rwanda or South Sudan) to make calls to networks within the visited country and/or to make calls back to Uganda at sh360 per minute.
The new offer also enables MTN subscribers to receive calls from Uganda at zero rate while roaming with the ONA network partners.
MTN’s One Network offer enables subscribers to call Kenya, Rwanda and South Sudan at significantly reduced rates of sh330 per minute. Any subscriber from Kenya, Rwanda and South Sudan will be able to call MTN Uganda’s subscribers at similar rates.
Speaking at Connected East Africa, the inaugural regional ICT conference in Mombasa, Kenya’s Cabinet secretary for ICT, Dr. Fred Okeng’o Matiang’i said that East African countries are working towards replicating the achievements of the One Area Network initiative.
“It is not true that internet prices are so high. Our region has the cheapest internet in the whole of Africa. Our problem as East Africa has been the different tax regimes. We are now in talks to harmonise tax regimes on data and mobile money,”
He added that governments in the region were determined to take broadband internet to the villages to help the youth to get connected.
“Expansion of broadband in Eastern Africa is a priority. Let us help the youth get connected. This is something that will help drive the economy of the region,”
Cyber security, Matiang’i said was still a challenge and that the governments of the region have to work together to fight cybercrime. He added that Kenya was working on a new law on cybercrime to help create a secure environment for businesses.
Challenges with Data Roaming
Telecom operators from across the East Africa region have issued a red light against data roaming on the recently launched One Area Network, citing infrastructure disparities among the member states.
According to the one area network, all operators across the region must use a harmonised rate for both voice and data, irrespective of the setup of their industry, before 2017.
The operators said current infrastructure limitations between the different partner states make it very costly to implement data roaming under the arrangement, across the region.
They blamed poor telecommunication infrastructure in some countries, where satellite is being used to offer broadband services, making it costly compared to those using fibre optic cables.
“The way the technology is currently set for data roaming is very complex. If a customer, for example, moves from Uganda to Kenya and wants to connect to data, Kenya must send a request back to the home network to connect the customer to the internet, making it very expensive. This is because of the infrastructure limitations between our different countries,”
the carrier services management consultant for Vodafone Uganda, Otaremwa Otuhumurize explained.
This was on the sidelines of the joint operators and regulators for the northern corridor integrated project meeting, at the UCC house in Kampala recently.
He said enabling data roaming would require very expensive software and hardware upgrades for most telecom operators, making it impossible to do data roaming for the moment.
“I think we might be in a better position to do data roaming after 2017, because new technology is coming up which can enable some networks to do affordable software and hardware upgrades to be able to route data from a visited network instead of sending it back home, “he said.
Harmonisation of charges under the one area network is part of a wider strategy by the four regional regulators, which also aims at seeing a common tariff adopted for mobile money transfers and SMS.
The East African leaders agreed in May meeting in Nairobi, to jointly explore mechanisms of lowering voice, messaging and data roaming charges, in order to support regional trade among the countries.
The director of competition and consumer affairs at UCC, Jonas Bantulaki said the operators’ views will be presented to their respective ICT ministries before being tabled to the next East Africa ICT forum in Kigali for discussion.
He added that a lot of negotiation must take place in order to arrive at some ground that is acceptable to all stake holders.
“Among the possible solutions now, is defining wholesale and retail price caps for roaming charges based on best prices, harmonizing SIM registration in the region to enable sharing of subscribers’ data, improving infrastructure to remove any bottlenecks and enhancing e-commerce in the region.”
He also noted that the focus should be on developing a fair usage policy for roaming rates, traffic refilling, mainly for the cross-border traffic, and absence of a framework for data roaming under one area network.
Source: New Vision Uganda