53 nations set up platform to keep traffic within Africa

The Smart Africa Alliance – backed by all 53 African countries – has taken a major step to set up a roaming platform across the continent, with the aim to reduce mobile costs.

The alliance has signed a memorandum of understanding with Seychelles-based revenue assurance company Global Voice Group (GVG) to set up an African Regional Traffic Exchange and Financial Settlement (ARTEF) platform.

Patrice Baker, president and CEO of GVG, said: “The ARTEF is a revolution in not only traffic exchange within the One Africa Network – lowering costs and improving quality – but a significant milestone in Smart Africa’s bold vision to stimulate economic growth by breaking down the barriers to communications on our continent.” The decision to back ARTEF was taken at a meeting of the African Union in Addis Ababa.

Hamadoun Touré, the former secretary general of the International Telecommunication Union who is now executive director of Smart Africa, said: “By keeping Africa’s traffic in Africa, the ARTEF platform will enhance the affordability and security of communications across the continent while cutting the costs that operators incur to interconnect and carry voice, SMS and later on data and financial services traffic among African countries.”

Baker added: “Lower call costs encourage business communications, stimulate innovation, and drive collaborations that can now take place across borders, bringing Africa’s brightest minds and ideas from the furthest corners, to the digital table.”

Smart Africa – which is chaired by Paul Kagame, president of Rwanda – said that the One Africa Network is a free roaming zone agreement that aims at establishing a harmonized African telecommunications framework to give African countries the potential to make significant leaps in development through lower intra-region communication costs.

As traffic will be exchanged via regional nodes within the region, instead of being routed via carriers that take it all the way to Europe and back down to Africa, the ARTEF is also expected to have a positive impact on the quality of service, said backers of the project.

Mobile operators will directly benefit from easy online traffic declaration and exchange and improved reconciliation and billing processes, they added. “The ARTEF will enable them to make significant savings in discount and transfer fees as well as in collection costs.”

Baker said: “The One Africa Network is a major initiative for the socio-economic development of Africa. The idea of a free roaming zone and the necessity of establishing a harmonised African telecommunications framework has been discussed for many years across the continent.”

Supporters say that ARTEF will promote African continental integration efforts, especially the free movement of people, goods and services across the continent, and protect African borders from telecoms fraud and grey traffic while tackling the associated economic and security threats that such traffic represents.