GCC to cut mobile phone roaming rates by 40 per cent

Phone regulators from across the GCC met in September 2013 to discuss reducing tariffs customers are charged for using their phones overseas.

ABU DHABI // Roaming rates for mobile phone users travelling through GCC countries will be cut by 40 per cent from April 1.

The announcement was made by the Gulf Cooperation Council’s Secretariat General on its official Twitter account on Thursday, and will affect roaming charges for calls, data tariffs, and text messages within the six-nation bloc.

Phone regulators from across the GCC met in September 2013 to discuss reducing tariffs customers are charged for using their phones overseas.

The talks were to ensure that all service providers were charging approximately the same rates for the same services.

Last June, members states said they would steadily reduce charges from April but did not specify by how much.

At that time, the bloc said tariffs would be steadily reduced over three years and data charges over five years.

Thursday’s statement, which quoted Abdullah bin Jumaa Al Shebli, GCC assistant secretary general for economic affairs, said the cuts are part of plans for greater economic integration among GCC states, and predicted users could save US$1.14 billion (Dh4.1bn) this year.

The GCC will be monitoring prices on a periodic basis, he said.

Current advertised roaming charges for du and Etisalat are nearly identical, with calls made from GCC member states to the UAE priced at Dh2.4 per minute.

Calls made to local numbers in the visited country cost Dh1 per minute, and incoming calls at Dh1.25. Incoming calls for du subscribers while roaming in Saudi Arabia are free.

Sending text messages cost Dh1 for du customers, and Dh1.25 for an Etisalat subscribers.

With du, data-roaming charges are priced at Dh1 per 50 kilobytes, while Etisalat subscribers pay Dh1 for 30KB on postpaid and Dh1.5 per 30KB on prepaid plans.

Etisalat and du representatives said they could not comment on how the announcement would affect their operations.

Tareq Masarweh, a senior consultant with telecoms consultancy Ovum, said a drop in roaming rates would encourage more travellers in the GCC to use their local sim cards.

“With high income levels, I expect to see a high adoption rate as many business and leisure travellers would favour the comfort of having the same number and consistency in communications, over the decreasing levels of savings with buying a new sim,” he said.

Sim cards offered by Gulf telecom companies – such as STC in Saudi Arabia or Zain, which has operations in several Gulf nations – can cost between Dh30 and Dh50 plus voice and data charges.

When travelling to his native Bahrain, Abu Dhabi resident Alex Malouf said he carried two phones - his UAE phone for work purposes and a separate phone with a Bahraini operator.

“I’ve got a pay-as-you-go number when I’m there,” he said. “It comes down to costs and it’s so much cheaper.

“When I’m home, I’m making local calls, calling family and friends, they are all in Bahrain so it doesn’t make sense to call from my UAE number.”

He said roaming rates, and particularly data charges, would have to come into parity with those charged through his pay-as-you-go account, before he would consider solely using his UAE phone.

He said he expected the changes would also be welcomed by tourists in GCC countries, particularly Saudis coming to the UAE, who will be keen to use their home phone numbers, which are associated with social media accounts such as Whatsapp.

“A lot of people are crossing over regularly so there will be big savings for them,” he said.

For business travellers and tourists visiting the UAE and wishing to avoid roaming charges, a number of options are available costing between Dh75 and Dh100.

esamoglou@thenational.ae

*With additional reporting from Reuters