Lusaka — AFRICA'S third-ranked mobile firm, Celtel, has scrapped roaming charges in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania in a move billed to cover the whole continent.
The development is effective Wednesday. Celtel launched the "One Network" service in the three countries thereby allowing all its subscribers travelling in the region to make cross-border calls at local rates and receive incoming calls free of charge.
"Celtel has removed geographical borders so that our subscribers in East Africa become one network whereby a specific home network does not exist," said Gerhard May, chief executive of the Celtel unit in Kenya.
The company said it hoped the new service would help expand its subscriber base in the region where it had about 3.6 million customers by end of June.
Celtel operates in 14 countries in Africa, including Zambia, and has more than 15 million customers. In Zambia, the company is the leading mobile telephony service provider.
According to May, removing roaming fees was expected to boost cross-border business for small-scale entrepreneurs as the three countries move towards a single market.
"Roaming is prohibitive to a lot of small businessmen," said Steve Torode, managing director of Celtel Tanzania. "Instead of having to pay as much as US $2 a minute, if you cross to Uganda or Kenya you will be paying somewhere in the region of 20 to 25 US cents a minute." Celtel is the third-biggest cellular operator in Africa after South African rivals MTN and Vodacom.
The company said it planned to expand the One Network service to the whole continent, initially linking countries in a region such as the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Congo Republic and Gabon.