12 April 2014

Kenya: Roaming Rules to Force Telcos Share Facilities

A 'national roaming' regulation is in the pipeline to make it mandatory for the existing four mobile network operators to allow cross-network usage of their facilities countrywide, the regulator said on Friday.

The Communications Authority of Kenya said national roaming is the next frontier of "raising the bar on competition" in the sector. It is awaiting a court ruling on a case where Airtel wants Safaricom compelled to allow it access mobile money platform M-Pesa, before releasing the draft regulation for public comment.

"We are working on a national roaming regulation for all segments. It is the next thing that will open up the market for competition but we'll have to wait for the court to decide on a related issue before it, then we'll issue out the regulation," director-general Francis Wangusi said.

National roaming will affect data, voice, money transfer, and other services as the CAK renew bid to force telecom operators to share infrastructure. Telcos will charge each other for use of network facilities and agent footprint.

"What it will mean is that a customer in any part of the country will automatically use any network available, where their primary mobile services provider is unavailable. It will be upon the operators to work out what to pay each other every month," Wangusi said.

National roaming is among a set of about 14 regulations that CAK is working on to align with the communications law of 2013, drafts of which will be out by June. "Sharing of infrastructure and resources is our aim to ensure that we uphold a competitive environment," he said.

CAK on Friday issued three mobile virtual network operator licences to Mobile Pay Ltd, Zioncell Kenya Ltd and Finserve Africa Ltd. This follows its adoption of a unified licensing framework in 2008, which collapsed all technology-specific licences into three categories.

These are network facilities provider, application service provider and content service provider. MVNOs have been licensed under ASPs category.

"We have given them licences that do not limit them in any way," Wangusi said. Mobile Pay already runs tangaza pesa money transfer service and the licence could see it roll out more services including voice and data.

"This allows us to be more flexible. We can now have our own SIM card and you don't have to do the USSD (unstructured supplementary service data) when transacting on our platform," said Gichane Muraguri, a director at Mobile Pay Ltd.

The USSD was costing a customer an additional Sh5 to connect to a network service provider above normal charges to transact on tangaza pesa.

"This will make a real difference. Our SIM card is connected to all banks and customers can thus do all transactions including payments. We already have an ATM card and we'll roll out point-of-sale systems and we are going NFC (near-field-communication) to enable one to just tap and pay," Gichane said.

Mobile Pay will also roll out other product, some of which will link the chain from manufacturers to consumers. "These will be far off from the ordinary mobile money, but will add value exchange. Our focus will not necessarily put us in direct collision with others - all we need is just enough of market share to keep us going and growing," he said.


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