Mobile phone companies to take up battle over voice call fees with regulator

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Mobile phone companies share different views over call termination regulations.
Mobile phone companies share different views over call termination regulations.
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  • Call termination rates, which are a key factor in the cost of voice call fees, have been blamed for contributing to high costs.
  • The national termination rate has dropped from R1.25 per minute in 2009 to R0.13 per minute in 2017.
  • Telkom, Cell C, MTN and Vodacom are among the companies that have made written submissions to the regulator about proposed changes.


The country's mobile operators will on Monday make submissions before South Africa's communications regulator on the review of contentious call termination regulations, which have over the years been blamed for contributing to high voice call fees.

Mobile termination rates refer to the tariffs that one company charges another to complete outgoing calls on its network.

The Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (Icasa) has proposed changes to mobile termination rates, but some of SA's mobile operators say the proposed changes could disadvantage both them and consumers.

Icasa has proposed:

  • the removal of asymmetric mobile termination rates (MTR) that are currently in place, and moving towards symmetric Mobile Termination Rates;
  • regulating international termination rates; and
  • setting separate MTRs and Fixed Termination Rates to reflect the different costs of termination on each type of network.

Mobile phone companies Telkom, Cell C, MTN, Switchtel (the VoIP provider) and Vodacom are among the parties that have made written submissions on the discussion document produced by Icasa for the review of pro-competitive conditions, as outlined in the Call Termination Regulation of 2014.

According to Icasa's Councillor, Charley Lewis, the price of voice calls has tumbled since 2014, benefiting consumers and businesses. He says the discussions with the sector are aimed at ensuring the "optimal functioning of the voice market". 

But some operators have expressed different views.

Vodacom, the country's largest mobile network provider, has questioned Icasa's authority over international termination rates charged by operators in other jurisdictions.

The company is of the view that regulating international termination rates for calls originating outside of South Africa will exacerbate its net outpayment position to the disadvantage of subscribers, due to high international voice call tariffs.

"Regulating International Termination Rates (ITRs) in South Africa would significantly reduce the revenue that South African operators receive from ITRs," it said, adding that Vodacom South Africa's ITR is still below the average in other countries with which it exchanges significant volumes of traffic.

"This means Vodacom still makes net outpayments for ITRs, which results in South African mobile users cross-subsidising telecom users in other countries."

The national termination rate reduced from R1.25 per minute in 2009 to R0.13 per minute in 2017.

Telkom has come out guns blazing against Icasa's proposal to remove what it says is the pro-competitive MTR asymmetry for existing mobile operators, at a time when "Vodacom and MTN continue to hold a duopoly position in the retail mobile market" with a combined market share of 82 percent in terms of mobile voice subscribers, and 88 percent of mobile voice revenues, according to data presented in Icasa's 2020 document.

"Telkom and Cell C have yet to reach the minimum efficient scale to compete effectively," it said.

Icasa's previous guildelines for call termination rates published in 2018 for a mobile location was 12 cents from October 2018 to September 2019, 10 cents for the period from October 2019 to September 2020 and 9 cents from October 2020 onwards.

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