For a long time, things have been stagnant in the Kenyan telecommunications market. Safaricom is the dominant player in the market, the network we love to hate, the network we leave but come back for. I think mostly because of its great customer care.
Anyway, according to the 2nd quarter report by CCK, Safaricom owns a large percent of us (64.5%), followed in the far distance by Airtel (16.9%), Essar – Yu Mobile (10.5%) and finally Orange at 8.1%. Mobile penetration is at 80%. The status quo has remained for many years, with consumers left with no choice but to remain with the dominant player, Safaricom, due to reasons such as loyalty, number portability that doesn’t work, the ubiquitous M-Pesa services, the best customer care, the loudest adverts etc.
Finally, some changes in the market:
Recently, Yu Mobile was offered for sale (to Safaricom/Airtel). Whichever company buys it, will see its market share rise. If Safaricom buys it (Safaricom is my bet), it will see its market share rise to 75%. Talk of a monopoly! Will things improve for Yu customers? I think so, though they will now have to pay more for the same services. I think Safaricom is the most expensive network.
CCK licensed Equity Bank, Zioncell and Mobile Pay on Friday 14th April 2014. 3 more networks! That should shake things up a bit. The operators will be hosted on Airtel’s unused capacity on the network, meaning they will share infrastructure. So it is not the case that Airtel lacks infrastructure or services, there are other reasons for its inability to increase its market share.
I am generally excited about the Equity move, because Equity is aggressive. Here is what I think will happen:
Prices will come down. In a bid to lure new customers (I for one, might line up for a line), Equity will have lower prices.
New customers will be dissatisfied and disgruntled customers of Safaricom, Airtel or any other network. Having used three networks so far, including Orange, I am definitely looking for a network that will give me value for money
Equity will go after the remaining 20%. Remember market penetration is about 20%
Here is the best part, Equity will partner with Airtel on more than the network level. When they partner to launch a cheaper better, more visible, ‘everywhere kind of’ mobile money service I will already have had my line. Airtel Money + Equity Agents = a cheaper, better service. M-Pesa is expensive, try sending any amount over 2,500.
If.. no sorry, when Equity partners with Airtel, and they are sharing network costs (with the other 2 new networks) they might hopefully roll out the fastest 3G+ (or is it LTE) network across the country. I am currently struggling to work from home, I can’t access the internet in Utawala. It’s like some kind of black hole there. Unless I work from outside the house, that is just not feasible at night. Even during the day! Anyway, if they do roll out a reliable internet connection (maybe via fibre optics, then supply broadband to our homes, the possibilities are endless), at this point, I will be begging them to shut and take my money!!
And finally, Zioncell and Mobile Pay, who are you people? What is your target market? I can’t wait to find out. Can you image having a choice of 6 telecom companies?
The problem we have been having as Kenyans is lack of a dual-SIM high end phone. Most dual-SIMs tend to be on the lower end, non-smartphones, and if you’re lucky some kind of Edge connection.
Samsung (I am now firmly #teamSamsung) has the perfect phone for you: an Android smartphone with Dual-SIM capability. If you have been wondering how to try other networks for data, voice, SMS without losing the functionality of your smartphone, you can now do that very easily; while maintaining your previous line. That’s how I got to try out Orange data, which I’m still using.
I have used both phones, and will review both in one post so you can pick one that’s most suited for your needs. First though, here is what they have in common:
Android v2.3 Gingerbread
Both phones come installed with Android 2.3 Gingerbread, which gives you good performance and a fluid user experience. It means your phone is easier to use, very responsive and looks good too! You are also likely to find a wider range of apps compatible with Android 2.3 and above.
Both phones have rear cameras with 3.15 MP producing up to 2048×1536 pixels photos. With good lighting, the photos can be of good enough quality.
This is a very important feature in a smartphone; even more crucial in a smartphone that is dual-SIM. What drains your battery most is that constant communication with the network that your phone must maintain, unless you have a phone with a huge screen (like the S II) where the screen becomes the chief battery consumer.
Both phones have standard battery, Li-Ion of about 1300 mAh. They can last up two days of both networks on, and data switched on. You can survive a full-day of intensive use.
Both phones have an internal memory of 160 MB (which can be quickly filled up by apps), 512 MB ROM, 384 MB RAM.
The external memory (memory card) is expandable up to 16GB, but the phone comes with a 2GB memory card.
(If you understand Android, you can skip this part.)
A lot of people, I have discovered, still don’t understand the hype around smart-phones in general and Android in particular. Here is some of what Android offers:
If your office/coffee joint/hotel has (free) wireless internet, you can also connect to it on your phone and download apps, update your apps etc. This is especially important if you have applications that are big (5MB upwards), or if you require to do something with a fast internet connection. Wi-Fi networks can do up to 300Mbps (theoretically), while 3G networks offer up to 42 Mbps (theortically). Just know wi-fi offers you faster speeds than 3G networks most of the time!
Ability to use your phone as a modem
With an Android phone, there is no need to get a modem. Your phone can act as your internet access point. This can be done via USB (takes less power, connects to only one computer) or via wireless hotspot. If you create a hotspot, you can support up to 8 devices on your internet (devices can be computers, other phones, or tablets).
The ability to multi-task is one big advantage of smartphones. It means if you receive a text while surfing, you don’t even have to stop what you are doing to read your text. E.g. if you are surfing on facebook with opera mini and you get a text, you can pull it down from the notifications bar, read the text, press the back button and you are exactly where you were before the text. Unlike the basic phone where you have to close down opera mini completely to read the text, and may even have to log in again.
In order to use an Android phone effectively, you must have a gmail account. Yes I know Google wants to “own” you and your data, but it’s worth it. You can the download apps from Google Play (formerly Android market). It also backs up all your contacts on your gmail account so if you change phones, all you have to do is “sync” your gmail account and your contacts are in your new phone. Why do you think I switch phones so easily?
Access to Millions of Apps and Games
If you can think of any app, it’s already been done. It’s like rule 34 for porn (don’t Google that). Bible apps, apps to read and edit office documents (powerpoint, pdf, word, excel), apps to prank your friends, apps to track your phone etc. Try them out.
One of my best Google apps is the map!!! You can navigate to anywhere in the world, check out your village via satellite, even see cars packed on the street at the time when the satellite picture was taken. You can ask for directions to anywhere, and most of Nairobi is mapped (except Liddos- don’t Google that either, but that is a story for another day!!!)
You can rotate the map to navigate better, you can even get walking directions. Make sure you are oriented in the right direction and do look up so you don’t bump into people!
Now imagine you have all that on Android, and now you have a DUAL-SIM phone so you don’t have to carry around two phones. You don’t need a modem since you can tether with whichever SIM card you prefer.
Both SIM cards are active at the same time. You can receive calls/texts on either simultaneously. However, for data, you have to choose which SIM card to use.
When replying to texts or calls, you can choose which SIM card to use. This can be done by easily selecting the SIM card from the drop down, or for the Pro Duos, there is a dedicated button to switch SIMs. You easily get the hang of this phone in a short phone.
You can also choose whether to use 2G networks (which saves battery life), or for one SIM card to be on 3G (I advise you keep the data SIM to be permanently on 3G, and your voice/SMS line to be on 2G). I currently use Orange for Data, which I covered in this post.
If you are running low on battery, you can turn off the data SIM, make it inactive, so you can still use voice/SMS for another two or so hours.
This phone is both QWERTY and touch-screen enabled. It’s suitable for someone who doesn’t like touch-screens or finds it cumbersome to type on touch-screen (sausage fingers LOL! Sorry for using LOL but it warrants in this case, I always picture someone typing one letter after another on the touchscreen).
It has a front-facing camera, great for taking self-portraits! This means you can do Skype with video calls.
It has a dedicated key for quickly switching between networks.
This past week has seen me shuttle between Mombasa, Nairobi, Mumias and back again to Nairobi. I went to Mombasa for the connected Kenya 2012 summit, big tings agwan! I think what I’m trying to say is the connected summit is Kenya’s biggest ICT conference. The top (and everyone) industry players were there. Kenya ICT board, Ministry of ICT, Safaricom, Orange, Google, SAP, Microsoft etc. The event took place in South Coast at a 5 start hotel. Conference delegates were spread out among beach resorts near Leisure Lodge because we all could not fit in one hotel.
Together with some delegates, I flew on Monday from JKIA in Nairobi to Moi Airport in Mombasa. Since I live near the airport in Nairobi, I did not have to worry about traffic to the airport. From the airport in Mombasa to South Coast, we took a bus and had one of my scariest rides: the ferry. There is always traffic around the ferry area so it took us 2 hours to get to our hotel in South Coast! However, if you can afford it, you should fly to Ukunda Airstrip in South Coast, just 5 KM away from the major resorts. Then you don’t have to go through Moi Mombasa Airport and the mess that is the ferry crossing.
Every day of the conference ended with cocktails and dinner, sponsored by one company or the other. We all know what happens when you place free food and drink before a Kenyan; restraint is thrown out of the window. Moderation ceases to exist. And when the hotel finally closed down, like all people chasing after a fast life, most people went to the only club that kicks it in South Coast: Shark Attack. I hope that’s how it is spelt. The bad thing about staying out so late is that you end up missing the whole morning sessions of the following day.
I made it a point to swim every morning before breakfast at the Indian Ocean Beach Resort swimming pool, where I was staying. You couldn’t really swim in the ocean in the mornings because you’d find the water had retreated but you could take a walk and watch the sun rise over the ocean if you are the type to admire sunrise. Which I am.
Wednesday night was the last night of the conference and Safaricom/ICT Board held the party of parties. We were welcomed to dinner on the beach by beauties handing out branded kangas/kikoys. I located a seat and ordered my drink on the rocks, except the ice cubes melted so fast in the Mombasa temperatures. The atmosphere was great, people were in great spirits and I remember at one point I had a glass of one in one hand, knee-deep in the shallow beach water and staring at the expansive ocean as the waves came crashing in. I remember thinking that right there, is life.
Eric Omondi on a camel with some funny jokes, some repeated, some fresh. Wyre the Love Child on Stage, electric! Some dancing competition and someone winning phones/laptops/tablets. Wyre with that guy who sings in Kikuyu (just remembered JB Maina.) More wine, but this time the waiter decided to leave the bottle on the table so I could refill at leisure. At the dance floor again. Giving out phone to a trusted friend so I don’t lose it. Talking to people, everyone starts pouring out their hearts. Is that a dare I hear? Off to the ocean then.. I win my dare. Kshs. 500. But the sucker refuses to pay! Getting pissed and taking off. Oh, my bottle is still there. Meeting some new people, accepting business cards with a promise to get in touch. I should leave before someone does something they might regret. A good friend gets me a cab to the hotel. I get up at 8am on Thursday morning, one hour later than I had hoped. That is how I missed my return flight.
Thursday morning was a frantic rush to pack and check out of the hotel and rush to the airport. We arrived there at noon, one hour after scheduled take-off. Lucky for those of us who missed our flights, KQ sometimes operates like a matatu. We got seats in the next flight with no extra charges.
I took time on Friday to catch up on work and stuff. Since it was Easter, I’m still ignoring school work until Tuesday evening when I attend my first class a week after we opened school!
This was the 4th time that the Kenya ICT board was organizing the Connected Kenya summit, arguably Kenya’s biggest conference involving local players. All stake holders in the ICT industry were represented, from government agencies & parastatals to NGOs, to the private sector companies like Safaricom, Orange Kenya, IBM, Microsoft, Google among others.
I must thank the Kenya ICT Board & Safaricom for sponsoring me with the whole shebang- flight to and from Diani, accomodation & meals, cost of conference. I went in my capacity as a blogger, though some people are yet to understand exactly what a blogger is/does!
The conference took place at Leisure Lodge Resort in Diani, South Coast, from Monday 2nd April to Thursday, 5th April.
A lot of discussions took place, mostly centered along the theme: “Knowledge. and Beyond” As I explained to someone who commented on this theme:
A knowledge based economy is what Kenya needs to be if it is to achieve vision 2030. So knowledge and beyond now.. we need to think of the future. We have data but this in itself is not useful. It must be transformed into information and from that we get KNOWLEDGE and then hopefully wisdom. ~ Catherine Ngahu, Chair of the ICT Board of Kenya.
Since its formation about 5 years ago, the ICT Board was mandated to create an environment for the growth of ICT in Kenya. ICT is one of the major pillars of Vision 2030, and the Konza City project falls under here. The discussion on Konza City can be a never-ending one, but in my opinion, there is nothing wrong with planned cities. This project will not be a while elephant, we all need to work hard to see it succeed. Who wouldn’t love a technology city?
The one thing that came up during the discussions is the way in which we talk a lot, but do little. The papers have been written, and written well. Implementation is the problem, with a lot of blame being shifted around. Task forces should be created and charged with implementation of sound proposals/policies. The government in Kenya is no longer the ‘hindrance’ it seemed, but nowadays it works and collaborates with the private sector on many projects.
To read more about the discussions at the Connected Kenya 2012 Summit, please check out
The conference ended with Vision 2030 awards, where Kenyans who have developed ICT solutions that drive economic growth and social development as outlined in Kenya’s Vision 2030 were recognized.
Read about the awards here. The overall winner of the awards was a startup by 3 Kenyan professionals called Medisoft East Africa Limited. Other winners were Green Dreams Tech Ltd for their product iCow in the Agriculture category; Digital Divide Data Kenya Ltd, in the Business Process Outsourcing sector; Kuza Biashara Ltd who bagged the award in Education and Training; and Tusqee Systems Ltd a runner up in the same grouping.
The conference ended with a dinner/beach party sponsored by Safaricom and ICT Board. You have to love the fine and white sands at Diani!
Safaricom has created a self-help portal where customers can well, help themselves! Instead of calling customer care patiently waiting to be connected, with the portal you can probably solve all your problems. You can check out your bonga points, mpesa transactions, etc. You can even report fraudsters, check out your balance, find out the cost of the latest Blackberry on offer…
There are a number of surprises for you if you actually bother to search for something. I searched MPESA and had Easter eggs falling on the screen. Check out the screenshot below.
Of course the Easter eggs prevented one from actually reading what’s on the screen, they were falling with such frequency!
However, if you search for other terms such as fake sms, blackberry, bonga points.. you get other surprises. I don’t want to spoil the surprises so just head there and see for yourself! It’s sort of fun.
Bharti Airtel (“Airtel”) announced the launch of its operation in Rwanda, expanding its footprint on the African continent to 17 countries.
While I was in Rwanda, I had to use MTN (it has a Safaricom partnership), which has the largest share of Rwanda’s mobile subscribers. MTN owns 55 percent of MTN Rwanda, which launched in 1998. It has 2.6 million subscribers, says MTN’s website.
Airtel has been struggling in Kenya, where Safaricom has the largest market share. However, I think they are doing well in Africa, with presence in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Burkina Faso, Chad, Nigeria, Congo, Syechelles, Malawi etc and now Rwanda. Check out the full list here.
In Africa, Airtel’s biggest competition is MTN. MTN is a South Africa-based multinational mobile telecommunications company, operating in many African and Middle Eastern countries. It operates in about 16 countries, including Rwanda, South Africa, Uganda, Ghana, Guinea, Benin etc.
Since mobile penetration in Africa still hasn’t reached saturation point, companies can still expand their basic services in addition to data and other value added services (VAS).
So I guess MTN are probably telling Airtel, bring it on!