Mobile phone subscribers in Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda will from January 1 2015 enjoy cheaper cross- border calling rates following the removal of tariffs by the three countries.
This means that mobile phone users on roaming will be charged less, while calling friends and family across the three East African countries.
The decision was reached at the just concluded 8th Summit for the Northern Infrastructure Project held in Nairobi on Friday, which was attended by Presidents Uhuru Kenyatta, Yoweri Museveni and Paul Kagame. The presidents directed Ministers of Finance and ICT of the three countries to ensure the One Area Network is operational by January.
One area network is a regional framework comprising countries that have agreed to waive or manage roaming charges and other surcharges for telecommunications traffic.
The rollout has been postponed several times to allow the member countries to formulate legislation for its implementation. The launch, which was initially scheduled for September, this year, was pushed forward to allow mobile telephone operators in the three countries to negotiate new roaming rates.
It was later agreed that each president launch the one area network in their respective countries on November 1, following the absence of President Uhuru Kenyatta at the Summit held in Kampala last October.
At that time, it was only Kenya and Rwanda that were ready, forcing the three countries to postpone the launch. Uganda had asked for more time to waive taxes on calls originating from the region.
Despite the delay, Rwanda and Kenya went ahead and launched the One Area Network, in October, resulting in the reduction of calling charges across the two countries from Ksh25 ($0.28) per minute to Ksh10 per minute ($0.1).
The latest announcement by the heads of state comes after Uganda confirmed that it had finalised preparations on the operationalisation of the One Area Network.
Roaming charges, which have been beyond the reach of many East Africans, will go down drastically, stimulating growth in the telecommunications sector. The calling rates are expected to decline to $0.1 per minute for retail and $0.07 per minute for wholesale.
The retail rate is the cost incurred in distributing calls within a country. The wholesale rate is the agreed interconnection rate between networks. Wholesale charges represent the fees the visited network charges the home network for letting its customers roam on its network.
The Summit further directed the ministers to operationalise the One Network Area for SMS, Data and Mobile Financial Services
“The scheme is important for East Africa’s citizens, as roaming charges, which have been beyond the reach of many, will go down, stimulating growth in the telecommunications sector,” Kenya’s Cabinet Secretary for Information, Dr Fred Matiang’i said.
The other two EAC members Tanzania and Burundi will adopt the new call charges at a date yet to be set. Previously, the cost of regional roaming had been higher than the cost of calling international destinations like Europe.
Under the agreement, the regional framework which refers to telecommunications traffic originating and terminating within the One Area Networks, shall not apply surcharges to international incoming traffic, impose additional charges to subscribers roaming within the One Area Network and impose charges to subscribers for receiving calls while roaming within the One Area Network.