• Roll-over of unused data
• Validity period of data bundles
• Regulator not too concerned with data costs
Namibians have a convoluted relationship with mobile data. If you asked the average person on the street, they would tell you they pay too much for data, which disappears all too quickly.
This could soon be a thing of the past, especially after the Communications Regulatory Authority of Namibia(CRAN) revealed that it is busy working on a series of interventions to ensure that the cost of communication was reduced to acceptable levels, a move that could be of ultimate benefit to consumers.
But while the public may harbour feelings that data costs are exorbitant in the country, CRAN says when considering Namibia’s positioning on global rankings data costs are “not a major concern.”
CRAN could emulate its counterpart across the border-Independent Communications Authority of SA (ICASA)- that recently announced several changes to ensure that communication is made affordable which included mobile operators now being compelled to notify subscribers when their data falls below 50%, 80% and 100% depletion levels; to rollover unused data; to allow the transfer of data within a network and to stop charging expensive out-of-bundle rates without customer consent.
CRAN, while responding to questions from this newspaper, said it is planning to come up with similar measures to ensure that consumers communicate at affordable rates.
“Yes, the Authority has identified this issue as a consumer protection initiative and has commenced with preliminary work on the matter,” said CRAN CEO Festus Mbandeka.
He said some of the changes CRAN is looking at include the roll-over of unused data and the validity period of data bundles.
But despite consumer outcry over high data costs, the public has not translated their concerns into complaint submissions to CRAN. This would result in a bid to call for some changes to the current laws regulating mobile operators when it comes to data provisions.
That has not stopped CRAN from looking into the matter however.
Mbandeka said CRAN and the Ministry of Information Communication and Technology (MICT) are working on the amendments to the Communications Act and the Authority will make the necessary inputs as part of the consultative process.
According to the Telecommunications Sector Performance Review for 2016, dated August 2017, Namibia was ranked 16th among African countries in terms of cheapest voice and SMS product in a country, with regard to mobile price benchmarking.
In terms of prepaid mobile data, Namibia was among the cheapest 10 countries in Africa.
“Therefore, on the basis of the above ranking as per our response above, this is not a major concern to the Authority. However, CRAN shall continue to use its best endeavors to ensure that telecommunications services are affordable and accessible to consumers,” he outlined.
The main debate usually circles around how expensive Namibia’s mobile data is relative to other countries. Research ICT Africa, an ICT policy and regulation think tank, has produced an index that compares the cheapest price for 1GB of data – based on prepaid data top-ups or bundled top-ups – in Africa by country.
In a country like Namibia, where broadband access remains low, mobile phones have become a central way that citizens access the internet and connect to the world.
Without access to free WiFi, the majority of people living in low-income areas rely on their phones and the small amount of data they can afford.
But while mobile operators have made millions in recent years by charging inflated prices for data and voice calls, government has come up with the 100% population coverage project to ensure that all Namibians have access to affordable broadband and voice services.
The project will cost N$1.1 billion to provide coverage to approximately 110 000 additional users.
This would translate into an investment of N$10 000 per new customer estimated to contribute N$40 per month. In documents seen by this publication, should a profit margin of 50% be realised this means a payback period of at least 20 years per user should estimated revenue and profit be returned at 5% per annum.
MTC, the country’s biggest mobile operator, last year revealed that since 2007 it has invested over 104 million US dollars in 2G/3G/4G technologies and the construction of new Base Transmitters’ Stations and equally so, they have also invested over 18 million US dollars to upgrade their Core Systems, while they have also ensured that they build their own transmission network capacity to the tune of 30 million US dollars.