Are we finally kissing goodbye to ridiculously expensive roaming charges?

David Gate Avatar

Roaming tariffs are quite frankly ridiculous! The world over. For example, a story is told of a teenager who came back from an overseas trip to a phone bill of about $6000. Her one crime; doing normal teenage stuff like post to Facebook and share photos. Roaming charges are such a big issue that the EU has actually put in place plans to completely scrap mobile roaming charges between the member states by 2016. Good for them!

Unfortunately, the EU is not the whole world, and the rest of us have to live with the exorbitant charges if ever we want the convenience of using our phones while travelling. If truth be told, we cannot blame any one MNO for these charges. The way this whole roaming thing works is this:

The home network will have a roaming agreement with the host network which would outline such charges as the cost of billing from someone else’s systems and the integration and connection with someone else’s systems – and to this they both add an agreed profit margin.

If we were to significantly lower (or outright eliminate) the roaming charges, we would need either to negotiate for lower interconnection fees between the host and home networks, or alternatively bypass the whole interconnection system completely. That’s where Roamer sort of comes in.

Roamer is a simple and free Android and iOS app that links a user’s local number to an international SIM card. New users on the app get free roaming credits worth about $0.69 for roaming calls and can top up with $13, $27, $41 and $67 roaming bundles. The way it works is really simple:

  1. Install the free Roamer app from AppStore or Google Play.
  2. Launch Roamer and park your number (the regular number) before leaving your home country. You park your number by forwarding incoming calls to Roamer’s service number in your area, which number will be assigned exclusively to you.
  3. When you get to your destination, buy a local SIM card, and insert it into your phone. NB: it must have basic data access. Launch Roamer to link your regular number to the new SIM card.
  4. You can now receive calls made to your regular number and you can make calls from Roamer as if you’re making them from the regular number.

It appears that behind the scenes the following happens:

  1. When you park your number, you basically enable call forwarding to a local number that Roamer has, so that you are only charged your ordinary local call forwarding charge.
  2. When you’re in a foreign country, a call made to your number is then forwarded from the local Roamer service number to you via the app using the host country’s network.

One of the major advantages of Roamer is that you can still use your number even when you are abroad and you can gain cost savings of up to 90% (according to their website). For example, theoretically using the app in Zimbabwe with a South African SIM card, a call to the USA will be about $0.91 (about R9.80) whereas with the normal Vodacom roaming tariffs it’s about R25.00.

Now to answer the question I put forward in the title of this post: No, not yet in Zimbabwe. When I asked the support team at Roamer if they plan to support Zimbabwe and other African countries, here was their response:


If we can’t have this at the moment, at least those in the diaspora can and I seriously hope it can be inspiration enough for someone somewhere to do something about it.

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  1. Tinashe Roy

    But Africom’s Guroo app allows you to call to Zim for 12c per minute, why go through all those complicated apps?

    1. David Shingirai Gate

      Actually, the app is not that complicated at all. However, I do get your point. Any idea how the Guroo app works behind the scenes?

      1. Tinashe Roy

        I just know Guroo is cheap and it has scrapped off any roaming costs to Zim.

  2. Tapiwa ✔

    We need progressive legislation of VOIP, not laws predicated on protecting the incumbent fixed-line monopolist.

  3. Patrick

    With TanaMe which is downloaded FREE from Google Play, roaming charges are eliminated COMPLETELY. You carry your number anywhere in the world. You can phone Zim at a local rate of 16 cents per minute. You also enjoy low low prices to other destinations e.g. 6.5 cents/min to RSA, 2 cents/min to USA and 3 cents/min to UK mobiles. TanaMe was developed by Zimbabwe company. No contracts, No hidden charges. You even enjoy FREE unlimited on-net calls!

    1. David Shingirai Gate

      Thanks for letting me know about TanaMe. It’s good to know Zimbabwean developers are slowly catching onto the app bandwagon and developing homegrown solutions. What we desperately need, however, is for these local apps to start competing head to head with the other offerings out there.

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