BOCRA looks into national roaming

By John Churu, Gaborone, Botswana

The Botswana Communication Regulations Authority, BOCRA, has enlisted the services of a Canadian consultant and researcher, Intelecon, to conduct a feasibility study on national roaming in Botswana. Speaking during a consultative workshop, the BOCRA CEO, Thari Pheko, said his organization had gathered the stakeholders to discuss the findings of the consultant, who was tasked with the doing a study on the national roaming in the country.

“Regulatory Impact assessment is an objective analysis of how a particular phenomenon, if introduced in the market, would affect the way the market functions. The assessment primarily entails qualitative and quantitative analysis. It is best practice that the regulator engages an independent consultant to undertake impact assessment and in this instance, BOCRA engaged Intelecon Consultancy of Canada who are in partnership with EOH Botswana.”

Pheko said the regulatory consultancy was necessary as a way of soliciting input from stakeholders before the organisation takes any decisions on regulatory interventions. “We believe that the integrity of a regulator like BOCRA has to reflect in the way we form policies and decisions and that such should be influenced by industry stakeholders representing different interests.” He explained that the BOCRA mandate required that they protect the interests of all industry stakeholders, hence the deliberate approach in inviting players to discus issues around national roaming.

Botswana has three Public Telecommunications Operators (PTOs) namely Mascom Wireless (Pty) Ltd, Botswana Telecommunications Corporation (BTC) and orange Botswana (Pty) Ltd. All the three PTOs operate mobile cellular telephony and have a total subscriber base of at least 3 million subscribers with about 98% being prepaid while only 2% are postpaid or on contract subscriptions.

The three PTOs have network coverage in virtually all populated areas of the country. However, there are areas where mobile coverage is provided only by only one operator. “It is in this background that we are gathered today to discuss the subject of national roaming,” said Mabua L. Mabua, The ICT coordinator in the Ministry of transport and communications.

In Botswana, national roaming was made mandatory during the initial licensing of the two mobile operators in 1998 i.e. Vista Cellular, now known as Orange Botswana and Mascom.

The operators completed the roll-out of infrastructure in the mandatory areas of their licence packages within a short time and started the deployment in areas covered by other operators. According to Mabua, “in the year 2000, the regulator decided to suspend mandatory national roaming requirements on the basis that it was not promoting infrastructure competition in the cellular market.” He explained however that a number of developments have since taken place which have changed the circumstances. “It is worthwhile assessing the market to establish whether the decision to suspend national roaming still remains relevant given the current landscape,” Mabua added.

One notable change in the market relates to the deployment of rural networks under a government project dubbed Nteletsa II. “In 2006, through the findings of the Rural Telecommunications Strategy, the government realised that despite the extensive roll-out of the mobile cellular networks there were still areas without telephony services due to the fact that they were not commercially viable,” said Mabua.

The government offered subsidy for the deployment of the telephony services in 197 villages thorough the Nteletsa II project. Mascom won the tender to provide the telephony services to provide the telephony services in the remote areas on the south and eastern sides of the country while BTC won the tender to provide the services in other remote areas. Orange did not participate in the delivery of the Nteletsa II project.

He said BOCRA has heeded the requests by key stakeholders to facilitate national roaming “And it is in this context that the authority seeks to assess whether national roaming is viable, technically, commercially or otherwise."

“Apart from the public concerns pertaining to unavailability of alternative service provider in some remote areas, empirical evidence suggests that in some cases, subscribers find it difficult to switch from one network to another because they would not want to lose their telephone numbers. Obviously, if customers cannot change networks easily it means that we shall not realize the full benefits of competition," said the government ICT coordinator. 

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