The case for prepaid international roaming in Africa is very strong indeed. Most subscribers on cellular networks in Africa are on the prepaid platform. What better way could there have been to reach out to this large number of people who form the majority? None.
According to Wikipedia, “Roaming is a general term in wireless telecommunications that refers to the extending of connectivity service in a network that is different than the network with which a station is registered. … for cellular phones, when you take your phone to an area where your service provider does not have coverage (eg, another country).”
According to the GSM Association, “Roaming is defined as the ability for a cellular customer to automatically make & receive voice calls, send & receive data, or access other services when travelling outside the geographical coverage area of the home network, by means of using a visited network.”
In this context, we are focusing on International Prepaid Roaming only.
In February 2004, ECOWAS organised a Regional Telecommunications Forum on Roaming and Cross-boarder Connectivity. This was in recognition of the importance of cross border and overall telecommunications connectivity as the key to the economic and social development and integration of the West Africa sub-region.
As way back as 1997, heads-of-state and government of ECOWAS nations, called on cellular phone operators in the sub-region to sign roaming agreements in order to facilitate seamless communications across all the 16 ECOWAS countries.
It appears like things are gradually changing for the better.
Africa’s first Prepaid International Roaming
South Africa’s Vodacom premiered this service with its offering in October 2003. When Vodacom launched the service, their prepaid customers were able to make and receive calls using their existing prepaid SIM cards when they travel to Namibia and roam with mobile phone operator MTC. There were neither deposits nor high accounts that customers had to be worried about which makes prepaid roaming of real benefit in terms of controlled spending.
Vodacom has since expanded its prepaid roaming service to Kenya (via Safaricom), Mozambique and Tanzania. Vodacom prepaid subscribers are able to roam into these countries.
West Africa’s first Prepaid Roaming
Spacefon Areeba unveiled the first prepaid roaming in west Africa in November 15th 2003. It tagged this service HOP.