Sunday, May 23, 2010

West Africa - Regulators claim call prices will fall with new infrastructure

[next] The West African Telecommunications Regulatory Assembly (WATRA) an association of telecommunications regulators in West Africa is poised to put necessary infrastructure in place to ensure that call cost within the sub region is low.

This will be achieved through harmonization of policies, liberalization of services, and addressing the issue of cross border infrastructure deployment.

Nnamdi Nwokoike, President of WATRA in an interview explained that the group of regulators is providing better environment for operators to link up to other countries in the sub region with ease.

“WATRA is interested to have a common ICT operating platform in West Africa,” Mr. Nwokoike said.

“We believe that we should be able to call from Nigeria to Senegal as a trunk call and be able to talk freely uninhibited. That is our vision and is key in what we are trying to implement. We also realise that it is going to take time because you need to convince others. You have to be as transparent as possible to carry everybody along,” he said adding that “one thing we need to do for that to be implemented is for us to have a common backbone, a transmission backbone that will run from Nigeria to Senegal.”

A study, he said, is being carried out on the workability of the common transmission backbone.

Common Telecom Infrastructure

He said further that ECOWAS is also working on a similar project. Some telephone operators are already dividing the region into zones for harmonization and common platform for proper integration of information technology

“Phase Three telecom and Suburban are working on that. Phase 3 is doing fiber on electricity lines and there is a west Africa power pool that is running in west Africa so some operators are also looking at putting fibre along the pipeline as also deployment strategy but like you know we are regulators we can only provide enabling environment for the activation of all these services for the building of backbone will still be private initiatives by operators because governments of ECOWAS will not go and build infrastructure because of the way business of telecommunication is done.

“We will set the enabling laws; we will create easy access for people who want to do such deployment not to have any bottleneck. It will be a commonality of intentions, those that want to deploy should be given right of way, access to the infrastructure, and government should protect investment.

No Cross border Infrastructure

Mr Nwokike also revealed that international calls within West African sub-region is high because most calls are routed firstly through Europe or America before getting to the destination.

Absence of the cross border infrastructure within the sub-region is hampering telecommunication access which also has not been as seamless as it should be.

“For international gate way, when you make a call in Nigeria, it leaves the shore of Nigeria, hits out to Europe, US through satellite or if you are an operator connected with sat 3, it goes out Nigeria depending on where you are dialing and uses sat 3 to enter its destination. But if we have fibre, direct connectivity coming from here (Nigeria) to Senegal, when you make a call it becomes like a local call made within a city because there are no hindrances.

The seamless interconnection infrastructure will translate to lower costs in terms of services because if you are using satellite the wholesaler who provides you the backbone will charge for the use of satellite but where it is linked directly, the cost will be lower.

High Roaming Charges

Roaming is an activity that is done by operators but like in Europe, the EU puts policies on how roaming should be done. In West Africa, there has even been a unique roaming set up emerging, where you have the same operator in different countries. So that makes even connectivity easier. Zain MTN and Orange are doing this. They have started what is called the unique or one network concept where they are connecting their entire sister operations in other countries.

“We are looking at having a roaming system that will reduce the tariff. In Africa tariffs applied in roaming is very exorbitant and are not known because some times what is published is not what is charged. So we are bringing operators back on to the drawing table to talk eyeball to eyeball to be able to find lasting solution to the issue of roaming.

It will increase the level of communication which translates to more business activity and discussion.” He said low pace of work at the ECOWAS secretariat in this regard had contributed to continued higher charges paid across the sub region.

Lower call tariffs across West Africa

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