West Africa edges towards harmonised roaming services


The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), West African Telecommunication Regulations (WATRA) and Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) are actively pursuing plans to eventually establish free roaming services.

The NCC has invited stakeholders to a Consultative Forum on 9 June to "chart the way forward for the provision of National Roaming Services in Nigeria."

At the same time the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) says it is considering the abolishment of roaming charges between its 15-member countries.

It recently published an expression of interest for the recruitment of a consultancy firm to conduct a feasibility study for the establishment of a free roaming service in West Africa.

The consulting firm to be hired by the ECOWAS Project Preparation and Development Unit is expected to do an analysis of mobile operators' activities in West Africa, including market research and investigation into the pricing (especially international roaming tariffs). It will also make recommendations on the possibilities of setting up a free roaming service between within the Member States of the West African Telecommunication Regulations (WATRA) and Mauritania, and establish an action plan.

In March, WATRA, a subset of ECOWAS, disclosed that it had started the development process of a guideline to harmonise roaming activities across the region. Last week, its Executive Director, Mohamed Lamin, reportedly disclosed that a harmonised roaming service within the region will expectedly start by July.

The statement was made last week during a gathering of telecom regulators from the four Mano River Union (MRU) countries - Sierra Leone, Guinea, Liberia and Ivory Coast - to discuss how to ensure one area network operates within member states.

When operational, the new agreement would enable calls to and from the MRU countries to be charged as local calls.

According to industry estimates, West Africa holds more than 188 million mobile subscribers, about 30% of Africa's total mobile market share, with a prediction to reach more than 310 million subscribers by 2017.

Aside from benefits to consumers, the elimination of roaming charges for calls and SMS' between these countries is expected to increase telecom traffic and, possibly, enhance international trade.