Forced roaming by a Tanzania mobile firm now on the regulator’s radar

Mobile operators in East Africa are allowed to beam their networks through a coordination radius of not more than 5km across the borders.

This is according to a law by the East African Communication Organization (EACO) to protect consumers from across the borders from intrusion.

A coordination radius is within the no-man’s land on either side of the border.

For instance, if you are crossing into Tanzania through the Loita border in Narok County. When you reach the 5 Km coordination radius, a mobile operator like Safaricom is required to hand you over to one of its roaming partners in Tanzania, say Vodacom or the Tigo network.

However, in what is known as forced roaming, even as far as the 25km radius inside Kenya, if your settings are at default, Tanzania’s Halotel will forcefully grab you into its network, purporting to be your roaming partner.

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What this means is that if you make a call at the 25km radius, it is first routed through Tanzania via Halotel, then to Nairobi and finally, to the person you intended to call and the roaming charges for such calls had been bleeding the residents of Oroorte village in Loita, Narok County.

“As soon as you say hello, fifty shillings is gone” Mr. Mark Naiswoko a resident of Oroorte village told Maudhui House.

But even as the residents endured this roaming hostility, it was probably their only option.

The other option for them would be to take the 25km walk to the Irkerim hill, the only close spot with a reliable network, or pay Sh500 bob to a Boda Boda operator to ferry you there. All this just to make a simple phone call.

Halotel had even gone to the extent of sending agents over to the Kenyan side to sell the residents Airtime cards and Halotel lines.

Mr. Fredrick Kabusia who is Safaricom’s spectrum Engineer says that what Halotel had been doing was a clear violation of bilateral laws, he is among the few people who petitioned the Communications Authority of Kenya (CA) to look into the situation.

Three months ago, an Oasis sprang up in the desert. As part of the Universal Service Fund (USF), Safaricom erected a telecoms mast in Oroorte village in the Loita region. The mast will serve up to 4000 people according to Dr. Catherine Ngahu who is the chairperson to the Universal Service Advisory Council (USAC)

The residents of Oroorte can now join the rest of Kenya in enjoying normal call rates not to mention mobile money services and products such as tunukiwa which from as low as ten shillings offers affordable voice, SMS and Data options

The Universal Service Fund (USF) was set up by the Communications Authority of Kenya (CA) with a purpose of covering marginalized areas through a model of incentivizing mobile operators to put up base stations in areas that don’t make any financial sense. During Phase one of USF, CA had identified at least 78 out of a possible 200 such areas.

Oroorte isn’t the only village that has experienced this life-changing transformation.

Under USF, Safaricom has also commissioned base stations at Engutoto in Narok County which is expected to serve close to five thousand previously uncovered residents, Wangaidahang in Mandera County.

There is also a base station in Oldonyolasho in Magadi, Kajido County which will go a long way in supporting county efforts as they fight an impending cholera outbreak.