On June 9, 2015 the governments of the six member of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states – Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, Oman, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE – reached an agreement to reduce roaming charges for voice, SMS, and data over a period of three years, starting from April 2016. This should benefit consumers in those countries, many of whom are likely to travel frequently within the GCC region. However, operators in those countries can still do more to market attractive roaming offers to their customers.
Agreements between governments to reduce roaming charges are increasingly common
The agreement reached by the six member states of the GCC to reduce roaming charges within those countries is only the latest of many similar cases across the world. As Ovum’s report The Regulatory Status of International Roaming noted, initiatives to reduce charges deemed “excessive” have taken place in all regions of the world. In most cases they have taken the form of agreements between governments or regulators of neighboring countries (e.g., Australia and New Zealand; Chile and Argentina). At times, supranational bodies have issued guidelines (as the Asia-Pacific Telecommunity did in 2012) or facilitated bilateral agreements (as ASEAN has with its 10 member countries in Asia-Pacific). However, none of these bodies have been able to issue binding regulations as has been the case in the EU, where the European Commission has regulated roaming charges since 2007.
The GCC’s approach can be seen as the closest to the EU regulatory framework – these countries have agreed on a roaming regulation since 2010. Back then, roaming was regulated only for voice calls, whereas now the GCC is introducing a glidepath over three years for calls and SMS and a five-year glidepath of reductions for data roaming.
End users in these countries are likely to be frequent roamers, especially in the GCC area, and are therefore likely to see a significant benefit from reduced charges. However, when the first regulation came into force, most operators in those countries offered prices near the regulated cap and did not market roaming packages to make the service more attractive. The exceptions to this have been Qatar Telecom’s Ooredoo Passport offer and, more recently, Etisalat’s Roaming Packages. MNOs should now look to do more to make roaming more attractive, just as European operators have adapted to regulatory changes in recent years. Given that many MNOs in the GCC region have operations in more than one of the relevant countries, they should be well placed to offer more convenient roaming packages in the future.
The Regulatory Status of International Roaming, TE009-000870 (August 2012)
Luca Schiavoni, Senior Analyst, Regulation