Adel Darwish, Head of International Relations at TRA Bahrain believes that though it might be long before GCC can scrap roaming charges completely, a change has definitely begun.
CommsMEA: What do the latest regulations mean in terms of roaming prices?
According to latest regulation approved by the Ministry of Communications and Post in the GCC in June 2015 for the GCC operators, the gradual price reduction has begun from 1st April 2016, for a period of three years. The reduction, will be applied for local calls within the roaming country, incoming calls while roaming and text messages. As for data services while roaming in the GCC, the procedure has begun from 1st April 2016 and will continue for five years.
CommsMEA: What has been the role of TRA Bahrain in bringing about the regulations?
TRA Bahrain has held the leadership of roaming working group at GCC council level which was responsible for reviewing the study and making recommendations to the Ministerial Committee. Moreover it has been responsible for the project management with a consultant.
CommsMEA: What benefits have been realised as a result of the regulations?
It’s too soon to comment on the benefits for the operators. However, from the consumers’ perspective, the benefits have been realised not only in terms of lower rates but also in terms of the multitude of packages the operators provide to the market today which weren’t available in the GCC countries before the approval of this regulation.
TRA BAH has been playing an active role in raising consumer awareness about the reduced prices through social media channels, radio and TV. Moreover, we have encouraged operators to resort to more advertising and increase consumer awareness around roaming prices, roaming packages, etc.
CommsMEA: Can the GCC look forward to complete scraping of roaming charges in the coming years?
GCC roaming market is probably the second market after Europe that has regulated roaming. We haven’t established rates as low as Europe. The reason is Europe has actually implemented several phases of roaming regulations. GCC or any other region can't go to the last step directly- we have to go through several reduction steps. Scrapping roaming rates completely is a big challenge. As the Roaming Working Group, we have understood and acknowledged that there are risks and cost elements that are involved. So, we have reduced the prices as much as we possibly could for now. The next phase is to monitor and assess the markets. By end of 2016, we are assessing the current consumer protection guidelines within roaming. We are looking at whether operators can provide live billing; we are aware of certain set ups but still the costs associated are very high. We do hope that vendors come up with newer solutions that are more cost efficient that can enable our operators to provide solutions like live billing.