Taking a lead

GCC countries are leading the way with mobile roaming reforms

Tags: RoamingUnited Arab Emirates
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Taking a lead The Gulf Roaming Regulation aims to cut the cost of mobile roaming in GCC countries.
By  Roger Field Published  February 6, 2011

While many countries in the Middle East are often criticised for the slow pace of reform in the telecom sector, the Gulf appears to be leading the way in one important aspect of mobile telecommunications - roaming.

Indeed, the high cost of mobile roaming, and a lack of clarity about these costs, has long been a problem for travelers around the world, and the Gulf countries were no exception.

But last month’s Roaming Mena conference, held in Dubai, offered a more optimistic picture, with some new regulation and collaboration between the Gulf’s operators and regulators emerging as key themes.

Indeed, one of the main discussion points concerned the GCC roaming regulations, which are intended to reduce the cost of roaming charges by placing a cap on the wholesale and retail roaming fees that can be charged between operators in the Gulf.

The regulation, which is the result of an initiative by the GCC steering committee of communications and IT, is being introduced in two stages. The first step became effective in September 2010, and the second step will be introduced in June this year.

While the regulation has drawn criticism from some operators, this appears to be largely to do with the implementation of the new rules, with some operators having met deadlines for complying, and many others yet to meet their obligations.

Adel Darwish, manager of market and competition, TRA Bahrain, is optimistic about the regulation, and thinks it could lead to a significant fall in the cost of roaming – perhaps as much as 30% - 40%.

Certainly, not all operators are happy, including those that have abided by the first phase of the regulation and are annoyed that some of their peers are stalling. But these gripes are likely to be addressed at the next meeting of regulators.

As some operators at the Roaming Mena conference pointed out, much has already been achieved by self regulation, with many operators in the region simplifying their roaming tariffs and giving end-users a far clearer indication of roaming fees.

But lessons learned from Europe indicate that self regulation is not enough, and the GCC telecom regulators should be applauded for their efforts to enforce better standards of roaming in the Gulf.

Furthermore, as most operators are well aware, while a reduction in roaming costs can dent roaming revenues in the short term, they are also likely to lead to greater customer satisfaction and possibly an increase in roaming calls from users, which could ultimately increase revenues for operators.

And with ever more people using mobile data services, the issue of roaming will only become more pertinent as time passes. Problems with the so-called “bill shock”, where mobile users face unexpectedly high bills after a trip abroad, appear to be a growing problem with data services.

As mobile users become ever more dependent on mobile data, and come to expect reasonable and transparent roaming costs for the services, operators will need to ensure that they match their customers’ expectations. 

The GCC roaming regulation may only cover voice services so far, but the regulators’ and operators’ experiences in developing and implementing the regulations will no doubt prove to be an invaluable experience in the coming years.

2404 days ago
Mohammed Merie

Zain .. initially started the free roaming service at the first place, then gave up !!

It's a free world of telcome NOW ..
No monopoly .. every operator has the right of offering free roaming or not ...
Zain .. initially started the free roaming service at the first place, then gave up !!

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