x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Phone regulators from across the region have been meeting this week to discuss reducing the rates customers are charged for roaming services.

ABU DHABI // Roaming rates for mobile users across the region could be slashed next year.

Phone regulators from across the GCC have been meeting this week to discuss reducing the rates customers are charged for roaming services.

The talks are to ensure that service providers all charge roughly the same for customers to use their mobiles when visiting other GCC countries.

A “roaming working group” has been discussing how regulators can implement the plans, headed by the Bahrain Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA).

The changes should come into effect next year once reviewed by the GCC Ministerial Committee for Post, Telecommunication and IT.

The talks are now in their second phase, focusing specifically on text messages and mobile data rates.

“The collective vision of this project has been to achieve reasonable GCC-wide roaming rates which accommodates end users’ needs and encourages regional competition and the social fabric of the GCC region,” said general director of the Bahrain TRA, Mohammed Bubashait.

“The initial scope of the roaming working group was to lower the rates for voice calls between GCC countries for roaming end users. This second stage of roaming review focuses on SMS and data services as well as the effect of the first regulation, which was fully implemented by all GCC member states in early 2012.”

The overall aim promises to give customers the best deal possible, while working with operators to form a unified system of roaming charges.

“Collectively in this respect, it’s the goal of any telecommunications regulator to protect consumer interests and create a fair and competitive environment for operators,” Mr Bubashait said.

“The prospect of GCC Roaming will be a monumental leap forward for the region, and only made possible as a multilateral vision. It will benefit the consumer, enhance the economic fabric of the GCC, assist with the opportunity of having cross-GCC businesses, and foster healthy competition on a regional level.”

Sultan Al Shukaili, roaming working group member for TRA UAE, was unavailable for comment.

“Further information can be made available when the roaming working group finishes its study,” said a spokesman for the local authority.

Telecoms representatives from Kuwait, Qatar, Oman and Saudi Arabia are also members of the working group.

Both UAE operators, Etisalat and du, have distinct roaming packages designed to reduce the potentially high charges for using mobile phones abroad.

Etisalat offers a monthly “Traveller Pack”, which costs Dh500, includes 1GB of data and 1,000 incoming minutes of calls, as well as cheaper daily and weekly packs with options for different amounts of data and minutes.

Du also offers an “Easy Roaming” package, which allows users to make local calls in 45 different countries on the company’s partnered networks for the same price as a standard local call (30 fils per minute).

Customers can opt in for the plan at no additional charge by texting “Easy” to 5102.

The company also offers the “Smart Plan” for pre-paid users, that allows the transfer of local minutes to international minutes at no extra cost.

As mobile-internet becomes an increasingly popular feature of smart phones, unsuspecting users can incur huge bills for data use if they are not subscribed to a roaming package, particularly if they choose to view or upload pictures and video.

Without subscription to a specialised roaming deal, web browsing overseas can cost as much as Dh1 for 30 kilobytes — equal to one short text-only email.

ksinclair@thenational.ae