SmarTone-Vodafone is leading mobile-phone operators in cutting international roaming charges as the pressure to reduce the stiff tariff imposed on customers for making and receiving calls outside their home country spreads from Europe. SmarTone, one of the five mobile operators in Hong Kong, has recently introduced a single-rate roaming charge covering China, Taiwan, Macau, Singapore and Malaysia. Customers making calls to and from Hong Kong or local calls in those areas will be charged a unified rate of HK$3.80 per minute, which represents average savings of 40 per cent, the firm said on its website. Since June, European operators such as Vodafone and T-Mobile have moved to halve roaming charges to pre-empt a European Commission proposal to force price cuts through regulation. The European Union has proposed to limit wholesale and retail roaming rates in a bid to slash the charges by up to 70 per cent. 'You get European customers roaming on our network when they travel to Hong Kong, so these operators would naturally ask us to offer similar roaming rate discounts to them when cheaper roaming rates are already being offered in Europe,' an executive at one Hong Kong mobile operator said. The reductions, which are also being looked at by other operators such as Hutchison Telecommunications International, could cut an important source of revenue for operators. SmarTone and CSL New World Mobility have the biggest share of roaming revenue among Hong Kong's mobile operators, analysts said. Toshinari Kunieda, a director of global business at NTT DoCoMo in Japan, recently said the seven-member Asia Pacific Mobile Alliance (Apma), which includes Hutchison Telecom and its Indian subsidiary Hutchison Essar, hopes to cut roaming rates. A spokesman from Singapore's StarHub, also an Apma member, said the alliance is finalising plans to offer 'seamless connectivity' for mobile services among members. He declined to indicate when a reduced rate will be announced. Other mobile groups, such as the Bridge Mobile Alliance, will follow when it happens, analysts said. Bridge counts Hong Kong CSL, Singapore Telecommunications, Australia's Optus, India's Airtel, the Philippines' Globe Telecom, Malaysia's Maxis, Taiwan Mobile and Indonesia's Telkomsel as its members. A source close to Bridge said the topic has been discussed among members but no conclusion has been reached. Alliance members might decide to charge a discounted roaming rate only when they roam on to another member's network, he said. They might also use the alliance relationship to cut costs of wholesale roaming and pass the savings on to customers across the board, even when the customers have roamed on to a non-member's network. 'It is a worldwide trend for roaming rates to drop,' the mobile executive said. 'We hope the reduced margin will be compensated by increased usage.'