Right to roam

Roaming is a complex aspect of telecoms, but the GCC appears to be moving in the right regulatory direction.

Tags: Pinsent MasonsRoamingSAMENA Telecommunications CouncilTelecommunications Regulatory Authority - Bahrain (http://www.tra.org.bh/)
  • E-Mail
Right to roam Adel Darwish, TRA Bahrain.
By  Roger Field Published  February 7, 2011

When telecom executives from across the region met up at the annual Roaming Mena conference in Dubai last month, they had plenty to talk about.

Indeed, while regulators in many of the region’s countries often come under fire for the slow pace of regulatory change, the regulators in the GCC have made a concerted effort to join forces in a bid to reduce the wholesale and retail cost of roaming in the Gulf.

Much of the momentum for change stems back to initiatives from a memorandum of understanding (MoU) drafted by the Arab Regulators’ Network (Aragnet) in 2009, which called for mobile users to be protected from “unduly high prices charged for international roaming.”

While the MoU allowed operators to opt out of the section that calls for a cap on roaming costs, telcos were required to increase clarity of roaming options available for users, and most mobile users are now familiar with the text messages they receive when entering a roaming zone.

“On the back of that we have seen a lot of operators take some steps in terms of promoting transparency,” says Kelly Tymburski, an associate at the TMT office, Pinsent Mason.

While Aragnet’s proposals for a cap on roaming rates have not yet been accepted across the MENA region, countries in the GCC have accepted the need for change. According to Lenka Glynn, partner and head of telecoms, media and technology for the MEASA region, Pinsent Masons, the decision by the GCC steering committee in June 2010 to impose caps on roaming fees was “one of the most tangible steps taken” to reduce roaming costs.

Adel Darwish, manager of market and competition, TRA Bahrain, says that the resulting GCC Roaming Regulation essentially places a cap on retail and wholesale roaming rates charged by operators in the Gulf.

The regulation is being introduced in two stages. The first step became effective in September 2010, and the second step will be introduced in June 2011. Once implemented, Darwish is optimistic that the regulations could lead to a reduction in roaming costs of between 30% and 40%, although he stressed that the TRA would need to see the results of the implementation.

Darwish added that the main purpose of the regulation is to protect consumers from being overcharged when they roam. Christine Beylouni, director for regulatory, roaming and external affairs, Samena Council, says that if the GCC regulation follows its European predecessor, the price cap will be reviewed – and possibly reduced - every year.

“The Council of Ministers of the Gulf mentioned that these prices applied in September 2010 and will be decreased further to reach another decreased cap. “It is like the European Commission regulations from 2007 that are reviewed every year. In Europe the roaming prices have been decreased by around 70% since 2007. They even want roaming prices to reach the same as local prices by 2015.”

But implementing regulation across the GCC countries, which each have different legal systems and regulators, has not been easy.  “Unfortunately, due to the fact that the telecom laws of each country, and the powers of the regulators in each country differs, the mechanics of implementing a GCC-wide decision differs from one country to another,” Darwish said.

So far, the UAE has implemented the regulation, and other countries including Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and Oman are understood to be in the process of implementing it. Darwish said that there had been some delays in Bahrain owing to concerns raised by operators, which the regulator is looking at. “We will engage with the industry in that process and see what that concern is and try to make sure that the final decision approved by the TRA does not harm the industry or the consumer,” he said.

While there is a lack of clarity about how exactly the implementation of the regulation will be enforced, Darwish said that there was another working group meeting scheduled for the end of January.

“One of the agenda points is to talk to the involved parties and see why they haven’t implemented the decision so far and to discuss the next stage of the decision, because it doesn’t stop here.”

The next phase of the regulation will see the working group look at the cost of outgoing calls, SMS, MMS and data roaming. However, Darwish stressed that the working group will ensure that the price caps are fair to operators as well as consumers.

“We can’t bring the roaming prices of operators down to the floor because there still needs to be competition,” he said.

The GCC roaming regulation has drawn some criticism, with some operators questioning how it will be implemented across the different GCC countries. However, not all operators have been impressed with the regulation. One telecom professional from a Gulf operator, who preferred not to be named, told CommsMEA that he thinks there is a “serious lack of coordination” in terms of the implementation of the regulation.

“It seems that though it was agreed centrally, when it comes to local implementation, everyone has taken a different path, so obviously there are operators that are faster to implement it, and others that are slower to implement it,” he says. Furthermore, he adds that the operators that are faster to implement the regulation face the biggest hurdle from a financial standpoint by having reduced their rates earliest.

Add a Comment

Your display name This field is mandatory

Your e-mail address This field is mandatory (Your e-mail address won't be published)

Security code