East Africa expands One Network Area to include data, mobile money

East Africa’s One Area Network initiative is being expanded to include data and mobile money services, a move expected to result in lower costs for subscribers.

The One Area Network initiative, launched in January, has led to a decline in mobile phone communication rates across borders in East Africa.

The East African Community (EAC) last year agreed that all calls between member countries should be billed as though they were local. The agreement led to a pact between Safaricom, MTN and Airtel Uganda that enables subscribers to receive calls for free while in Uganda and pay a flat rate of $0.11 for calls to other East African countries including Tanzania and Burundi.

Now, the region is expanding the initiative to include data and mobile money services. Kenya, South Sudan, Uganda and Rwanda will be the first countries in the region to benefit from the expanded initiative.

Information and Communication Technology (ICT) ministers from the region said they expect mobile money services, through the One Area Network initiative, to boost trade and development in the region.

More than any other region in Africa, East Africa has seen an explosion of mobile money services.

In Kenya alone, there were 26 million mobile money subscribers as of December 2014, while Internet subscriptions were at 26.1 million, according to Fred Matiang’i, Kenyan ICT Cabinet Secretary.

But as in many regions of Africa, East Africa is still faced with high costs for data and transmitting money across borders.

Speaking at an East Africa regional conference this week, Matiang’i said, “although the cost of data in the region is not alarmingly high, we are not satisfied.” He said governments in the region were aware that cost is a significant factor in data access.

East Africa has more undersea cables servicing the region than other area on the continent, making bandwidth and Internet connectivity relatively cheaper than in other areas. The ICT ministers from the region said they are now just seeking approval from all respective central banks and treasury ministries to extend the project.

Edith Mwale, telecom analyst at Africa center for ICT Development, said the East African region is truly becoming interconnected through telecom regulatory harmonization.

“The East Africa region is set to achieve more in ICT development than any other region in Africa. It started with cheaper voice communication and now it is moving to data and mobile money services,” Mwale said. She said while Southern Africa is still struggling to harmonize regulatory regimes, East Africa is focusing on increasing allocation of funds to ICT projects, from less than 3 percent to a minimum of 5 percent of national budgets.

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