Following a series of previous deliberations, the Central African Economic and Monetary Community (CEMAC) has officially adopted the draft regulations regarding the implementation of free mobile roaming across six Central African countries from January 2021.
An official statement by the Council of Ministers of the Central Africa Economic Union (UEAC) read, “taking into consideration the recommendations of the Ministers in charge of Telecommunications within the sub-region, the Council has adopted the draft community regulation on the putting in place of free-roaming within countries of CEMAC.
“The Council is delighted about this decision which is aimed at strengthening the integration of people within the sub-region through reduced costs of communication using ICTs.”
CEMAC member countries – Cameroon, Congo, Gabon, Chad, Equatorial Guinea and the Central African Republic have agreed to remove additional charges for call roaming within the region.
Nationals of these six Central African countries will be able to call, text and browse the internet using mobile data without incurring roaming surcharges when they travel to another country in the CEMAC area.
Journalists, tourists and government agents are the most affected group when it comes to mobile roaming charges in Central Africa. They usually have to travel across these countries at different times for business and for pleasure. When making calls, browsing or sending SMS, they are charged a roaming fee.
Individual tourist visitors to countries like Gabon, Congo and Equatorial Guinea also get to pay roaming mobile costs for the period of time they spend in those countries. However, most tourists are foreign nationals, with only Central African citizens to benefit from the free roaming regulation.
Zero Mobile Roaming Costs To Reduce Expenses for Travelling Nationals
In the CEMAC zone, the average cost of an outgoing roaming mobile call is XAF 689 per minute ($1.24), which is a prohibitive rate for many travelling nationals.
Free mobile roaming means that travellers will save 100% of previously charged roaming costs on all mobile roaming services, including calls, SMS and internet browsing.
If these costs are eliminated by the countries, this means that citizens will be saving $1.24 a minute for every call they put through when roaming on their mobile in another CEMAC country.
For instance, based on the current mobile roaming charges, a 2-minute call for 10 days would normally attract a roaming charge of XAF 13780, equivalent to $24.8. Under the free roaming regulation, mobile roaming charges will be zero for the same call duration. In fact, the sum total of roaming costs for any duration of mobile services will always be zero.
Telcos To Lose Roaming Fee Revenues
Once the CEMAC free mobile roaming regulation is effected, mobile telecommunications companies with a big presence in the Central African region such as MTN and Airtel will have to cede the income that they generate via the mobile roaming charges on their networks.
MTN charges XAF 6 per MB ($0.011), formerly XAF 65 ($0.12) per MB, for internet browsing in roaming fees for Cameroon nationals who use their MTN lines to roam on the network in Congo. So for every 1GB roaming, MTN rakes in XAF 6000 ($10.82).
While $10.82 in itself seems a small amount, it will accrue to millions of dollars when factoring the cumulative MTN mobile roaming charges on internet browsing, plus calls and SMS, in the entire CEMAC region. This loss of all mobile roaming fee revenues is what other mobile network operators in the region will also have to deal with.
Should the free mobile roaming project be fully implemented by January next year, travelling residents of CEMAC countries will be the biggest winners, and telcos in the region may be left to count their losses.
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