Where Africa and Technology Collide!

Wananchi: Severely Curbing Web Costs in Kenya

Wananchi is one of the largest ISPs in Kenya. I was invited to come see the installation of Wananchi’s brand new Intel Sat satellite dish, for use in their new WiMax, fiber and cable TV offerings. Two reasons it was interesting.

Getting the pins put in on Wananchis new satellite

First, because it’s being installed in Upper Hill, my old neighborhood. I just don’t recognize this place anymore with all of the new commercial buildings.

Second, and probably more interesting to everyone else, is that this dish is aimed directly at the mass market in Kenya and stands to drastically lower the costs of bandwidth to the home. Wananchi will be offering 512k broadband to the home for 3000 shillings ($). Compare that to the next best offerings by Safaricom with their new 3G service for 2000/= (700Mb) or 4000/= (2Gb), and Access Kenya with 256k at 6000 shillings.

From here, it looks like anyone wanting to stay untethered and who doesn’t have that high of bandwidth consumption would likely choose Safaricom (700Mb isn’t a lot). However, if you’re going to spend more than a modicum of your time on the internet, then Wananchi’s new service is the most attractive.

Wananchi’s towers also have fiber pumped directly into them, so more speed and reliability out of the gate. To manage their large 100 tower rollout in the Nairobi area, they’re piggybacking cell towers with Celtel, and hope to be done by around October. Certain towers, with service off of this new dish, will go live by the beginning of July.

All told, I have to say I’m impressed. Not just by Wananchi’s offering, which will come as great news for the public, but that the communications industry is moving along so quickly. Thought international fiber is still a dream in Kenya, local connectivity is booming.

So, where’s the local version of WordPress MU setup for local bloggers? Where are the local web services by local software guys for local companies? That we shall find out shortly, this weekend at Barcamp Nairobi.

(Update: Full-sized images on Flickr)


  1. very interesting this. i shall look forward to checking out the new packages, 512k, 3k bob shillingis. sounds like affordable reliable internet is not too far away! ๐Ÿ™‚

  2. Congratulations to Wananchi…their package is cheaper than 512k broadband in Oz. Do they have caps on downloads/uploads?

  3. Cheers to wananchi if they can roll out this service it will help capture the vastly untapped home internet users who want multimedia downloads. I wonder what are the peospects for serving upcountry and remote locations we feel left out of this broadband bandwagon.
    700MB is a joke vista downloads security updates of more than this in a month!

  4. Mwangi – thanks. 10% of your users always use up 90% of your bandwidth. And we already see this in our pilot. This is a fact all operators have to deal with. We are aiming to give users an “all you can eat” service, and don’t want to cap. Just need to learn how to work with the 10% effectively so everyone gets a good service.

    Kirima – thanks. Nairobi and Mombasa will be saturated this year fully, and we will have coverage in about 10 other towns. Will continue expanding this as we grow rollout capacity. Note the Wananchi/ATMT strategy is actually a regional one, and we will be expanding to other countries in this region as well.

  5. If that’s the case, then your service offering beats the service offerings in Australia, more expensive, caps and restrictions all over the place. Congratulations.

  6. Interesting, had to call Wananchi to confirm the rates and they’re real! 2008 really is the year of broadband.

  7. This some piece of good news. I have been window shopping for an ISP for home use and what I was getting was either too expensive or too low a deal.
    Will this VSAT be able to serve estates like Embakasi? how about Lower Kabete (I have interested parties there)

  8. KenyanPoet – Embakasi and Lower Kabete are going to be covered. So over the next few months as the network rolls out …

  9. Great that there won’t be any caps. That has been a problem with net access in developing economies. The easier it is to access the net, the better chances we have at creating new business models that will destroy the status quo. Great job!

  10. Slightly off topic, but is that a wordpress plugin you’re using to make the photos appear in a ‘gallery’?

  11. @William – it comes stock with WordPress 2.5, just upload a bunch of images and then type [gallery] where you want it to appear. Very nice!

    Makes me happy that Matt is a photog, otherwise I doubt this would be part of it yet.

  12. I’m getting the same deja vu i keep getting whenever iway/wananchi/kdn/afol/celtel/safaricom announce something that sounds too good to be true.

  13. your post are much informative and useful for every one i like to spend ample time with your blog..

  14. I have a Celtel wireless modem and its pretty good. They too have the 3k/month unlimited deal. It beats the safaricom expense even if it is slower than 3G

  15. can’t wait to see what cable TV brings

  16. have they started to offer their service’s in south c.

  17. People people people, hold your horses.

    You all forget one of the most important things in a connection: what is the guaranteed speed? The guaranteed download speed on Wananchi is 5Kbps, i have the docs here with me (let me do the math for you, that’s 1% of the 512Kbps that you’re all talking about and that they’re shouting about!) .

    So based on that, a few facts:
    – there is no way you can even begin comparing this offering to what you get in the west including Oz. End of that story (to quote Gadaffi!)

    – In the west, there is no guarantee either, but they offer a contention ratio which is usually 10. This means, if the ISP sells you a speed of 512, you’re guaranteed 51Kbps @ any given time… that’s 10x what Wananchi is guaranteeing you!

    – kudos to Wananchi, indeeeed (to quote the Baks when he says… indeeed my government), connectivity should be cheaper but trust me folks, you ain’t seeing that till something serious is done about Fibre. And i’ll tell you one thing more, you ain’t about to see that with these wazees in power.

    – Fibre @ the right prices will remain an elusive dream. You can have Fibre at the wrong price if you have a F***** up business model which is the case with West AFrica. They have fibre, but the model the govt’s went with is so fucked up that Satellite is actually cheaper! Is that where we’re heading with TEAMS… my suspicion is yes, but alas, i digress!

    – Did you know that KPTC (precursor to Telkom Kenya) first attempted to setup an international fibre link in 1984! yes, and we’re still waiting. TIA if you ask me.

    – On a positive, i’m signing up to Wananchi! Yes, after all that and i write this after reviewing their materials and as i continue to await their technicians (2nd time they’re a no show)!

    – Why am I signing up? I’ll use it till it reaches capacity and move to the next ‘new’ provider. Orange perhaps?

    – Where am I moving from? Celtel/Zain Unlimited Internet.
    I was paying 3k for this for unlimited internet and it was great but they have refused to upgrade bandwidth adequately to maintain a realistic MINIMUM SPEED. BTW, Celtel at night is fantastic, but i use it more during the day ๐Ÿ™

    – So if you want night connectivity, please don’t join me on Wananchi :)…Celtel’s good for that! Seriously!

    – About Safcom and 3g, there’s no difference between that and Celtel! Why? nobody can afford to give a consumer a fast international connection… its too expensive! Safcom 3G gives you 3G to Waiyaki Way (Safcom HQs), from there… you’re on a tiny international link that brings your speed down to the 5-16kbps range during the day.

    – Oops: Another fact: Safcom is my backup line and the speed is the same as Celtel. I pay them per MB but I don’t mind as I only use it when Celtel is down (at least once a week!).

    – Fact: Corporate HQs of several blue chips don’t even have 256Kbps (and they pay circa KES 100k/month for their connection), how the bloody hell does any consumer think that they can have 500kbps for KES 3k?

    – I’m sorry to burst anyones bubble. However, as you can see, by what I’ve shared its not all bad news. If you look at all my facts above, you can immediatedly choose a service that works for you but PLEASE… don’t expect broadband for 3k yet. Not yet Broadband (paraphrasing Not Yet Uhuru ๐Ÿ™‚ )

    Finally, I pray that one day CCK will get off their bloody ass and reign in this misleading advertising being undertaklen by ISPs & Telcos! Nobody offers realistic broadband in Kenya (unless you call 5kbps broadband!). They need to ensure that ISPs publish their guaranteed speeds. (end of story!) Without these, how do you compare ISPs?

  18. @SAGX – that was a brilliant comment. If I gave out stars for comments on this blog, I’d give you a 5. Thanks for sharing this useful information on how the speeds actually are with each of the services you use.

  19. @SAGX: I’ve had Wananchi at the office and I can indeed confirm that the guaranteed speed is in the region of 5Kb/s(yes small ‘b’) without a download accelerator and thats mostly what we get till offpeak ~7PM when its goes to about 64Kb/s! With these rates, why exactly do the words *broadband* and *512KB/s* feature anywhere in their material at all! But I don’t blame them, its the CCK and their sleeping on the job.

    About getting 5-16kb/s on safcom 3g, you must be on EDGE. The slowest I’ve seen their 3g get is 512Kb/s speeds and I still easily get downloads of 150+KB/s(big ‘B’) most of the day. The fact is that safcom data service is the only *real* consumer broadband product on the market as of now.

    Its been two months since safcom released their product, when are the rest of the ISPs going to shape up or is safcom’s marketing muscle too much for them?

  20. Well done Wanainchi for the good work that you have done. I just feel bad that i havent had the opportunity to take part in this latest and boldest step towards providing cost effective internet to majority of Kenyans. May your endeavours succeed as you continue to define Internet Connectity and Availbility the “Wanainchi” way

  21. When I got to Kenya a few months ago, my idea was to continue my internet business. After all I was reading everywhere about 512 speeds and all that.

    Alas. Here we go to fake promises again. I believe our business men have now become politicians. They are not serious. I got that 3g thing after 2 months of trying to impress on these dander heads that I paid two months ago for internet connection. So I needed my internet when I paid for it.

    When I got it. I nearly died. I had to go get the celtell thing. You have got to be kidding me. Then I was told to pay $100 for some 32kbs service with another provider. They too said broadband.

    Do these companies understand what broadband is? This is worse than dial up. Let us be very serious here. There is nothing like broadband anything in Kenya. If you really want to know how fast your speeds are, go to speedtest.net. You will be amazed ! At those prices, no wonder guys were fighting for those shares. We are being hoodwinked again.

    I don’t know anything about this wananchi offering. But seeing my past experience, I wouldn’t hold my breath. 50 dollars for less than 32kbps is a sham. That is all I have to say about it.

    I am now waiting to see what this mseto gov’t will do with fibre optics. Probably require you to join one party or another.

  22. SAXG & Masaa,

    I agree with your views. I got the Celtel/Zain EDGE service just this month and I am not at all impressed. 237Kbps is what they will proudly tout to you at the Zain centre on Mombasa Road. Just try asking them what the actual speeds are (the sales reps weren’t sure and just beat around the bush saying it’s quite fast!)

    Anyway, I had to get it coz it was the best offer available (5-10 KBps @ 3K per month.. hmm.. ) But it sure beats the Safaricom trap. Imagine hooking up internet on a network that’s already congested on calls only. Wouldn’t wanna surf on a Friday evening! And then the real downside is the rationed MB’s. With multimedia ruling the web, why would you even dream of getting into this plan?

    I’m waiting to see any positive reviews about the new Wananchi broadband. We’re also hoping that this time, it’s true broadband (I’m expecting at least 100Kbps downloads with this one..). I’m sticking to Celtel EDGE for now for lack of dependable alternatives. Other plans are either too damn expensive or too slow.

    On a positive note, if ISP’s were to get a bit more serious, with proper regulations, Kenya would truly be a broadband zone. This country has come a long way from Kenya Posts & Telecommunications (I had already forgotten about it!) In three years (yes!) it’s possible to have the sort of broadband they have in San Diego (speedtest.net gives Sony Entertainment Corp. a whopping 33Mbps freefall.)

    Till then, it’s 5Kbps for most of us!

  23. Hi , all. As I am new to the broadband market in Nairobi, I’d like some advice. It seems like the link to the intenet outside Kenya is the bottleneck and that Telekom Kenya and Wananchi have made the most recent investments in this area. Are these, therefore, the providers to go with for heavy home-based use? Does adding in the complexity of needing to move locations rule out Wananchi? In either case, or with other providers, how does one sign up? Are there retail outlets?

  24. HASH!!! What’s up dude?
    This post was timely as I got here by a Google search : “access kenya vs wananchi +wimax”. My good pal is looking to set up broadband on her premises here in Karen (Ngong Rd & Karen Rd intersection) so I’m emailing both Access Kenya and Wananchi on their product offerings. Here’s what they sent me…

    Package Description | Speed | Price (in VAT)
    *Prosurf Recommended 1 Computer (With 5 email addresses FREE) 256Kbps 2,999/-
    *Supersurf Recommended 2 -3 computers (With 10 email addresses FREE) 512Kbps 5,999/-
    *Megasurf Recommended 4 รขโ‚ฌโ€œ 7 Computers (With 20 email addresses FREE) + 1 static IP if required 1Mbps 9,999/-
    *Sohosurf Recommended 8 รขโ‚ฌโ€œ 12 Computers (With 30 email addresses FREE) + 1 static IP if required 1Mbps 14,999/-
    Setup fee: 5800/= (no cost for WIMAX equipment but it belongs to them)
    **Access@Home Premium package:
    All day (7am-6pm): 32kbps uplink / 32kbps downlink
    All night (6p-7a): 64k up / 256k down
    All weekend: (saturdays 1pm – mondays 7am): 64k up / 256k down
    Pricing: Equipment cost: FREE (normal price Kshs 25,000); One off commissioning fee Kshs 12,500 plus VAT; MONTHLY fee Kshs 6000 + VAT

    **Access@Home Value package:
    All day (7am-6pm): 32kbps uplink / 32kbps downlink
    All night (6p-7a): 64k up / 128k down
    All weekend: (saturdays 1pm – mondays 7am): 64k up / 128k down
    Pricing: Equipment cost: FREE (normal price Kshs 25,000); One off commissioning fee Kshs 12,500 plus VAT; MONTHLY fee Kshs 4000 + VAT
    My thoughs?
    Well, I have a hunch the Access Kenya package “should” be BETTER dude to the GUARANTEED speeds in their brochure. Wananchi does NOT have a tower in this area (Karen Rd & Ngong Rd) yet. But they have a cheaper setup fee at 5800/= vs AK’s 12,500. I just sent an email to Trizah at Access Kenya to see WHERE their closest tower is. Also, according to Mercy from Wananchi, they’re using Telsima WIMAX hardware. I don’t know what AK is using…maybe Alvarion to justify that obscene 12,500 /= setup fee? Who knows?

    By the way, peek my post titled “ZAIN on the EDGE of Ngong” on my Go Africa go! blog here:
    With regards to Zain, I truly believe that once their 3G service goes live – “soon” according to customer service – that it will be BETTER than Safaricom’s 3G offering. Why? Because their EDGE service is waaaay better. Have any of you tried browsing Yahoo.com in your phone on Safaricom’s EDGE? “No gateway”. Once I plop in my Zain SIM, no problema.

    All in all, broadband is starting to heat up in this country. I’m curious to see what happens when those 3 undersea fibre optic cables connect at Mombasa. I’ve been telling peeps that Mombasa will, OVER NIGHT, become a data/broadband haven since I DON’T TRUST the crappy infrastructure in this country to provide RELIABLE fibre optic connections from Mombasa onwards to Nairobi and further upcountry. Why? Heck, Telkom Kenya employees keep STEALING copper which has screwed lots of cyber cafes with hours of down time. Who will be stealing the fibre optic cabling?? I’m told that the Masai love to make necklaces out of fibre cabling. If that’s the case, shit may hit the fan. I don’t know…but relocation to Mombasa in 2009/2010 is looking mighty good. ๐Ÿ™‚


    – Max (aka MaxTheITpro: http://MaxTheITpro.BlogSpot.com )

  25. By the way, I think Africa Online’s iBURST is in big doo doo. How can it compete with 3G that’s ubiquitous and AK & Wananchi’s offerings?
    Oh well!!

  26. Well, BAD NEWS from Acess Kenya. It appears that their Access@Home packages are using Alvarion hardware and they DON’T have a base station here in Karen yet. Apparently, the Residents Association here is giving them problems with setting up a tower. But then she told me about their “corporate” WIMAX package which uses the EXPENSIVE Motoral Canaopy hardware. They already have towers here and in Ngong for that. But the cheapest speeds were 32k/32k for 10,000/= per month. Yikes!!!
    So looks like my pal “Mrs. C” is gonna have to go with Wananchi…unless I can convince her to allow Access Kenya to put up a tower on her 15 acres of property by Karen & Ngong Rds. Hmmnnn…

  27. Max,

    I had not thought about the Mombasa thing. You are right. I do my business online and don’t really care where I am but I need my internet. I will be looking at Mombasa, of course after they lay the cable.

    My view after the last post is that, we have a long way to go. As you can see the guys from wananchi stopped posting here.

    For those who wish to get internet access in your home, for 32kbps just know that you will only be able to login to yahoo. Even the login to gmail has to be done without standard view. I can assure you , you will miss the cyber cafe.

    Before you buy, ask for the real speeds. Most of the salesmen only know the word, very fast. A guy who just cleared form 4 does not have a clue what fast means. I am sorry.

    I got one provider. They are too expensive but at least, I know what my speeds are and when I complain, they show up on my door. Otherwise, I am still frustrated.

    but you guys are right. After Posta, this is still way better. So let’s not complain too much.

  28. Hey Masaa! Yep, I’m seriously thinking about relocating to Mombasa if I stick around in Kenya. Heck, broadband is MUCH BETTER in TZ. I wrote about Zantel’s EV-DO service here in 2007: “Zantel ups the stakes with new mobile data service”

    Oh, here’s the scoop I just got from Access Kenya regarding their HOME WIMAX offering challenges in Karen:
    “Our service is guaranteed while the other is shared hence the price difference. We are also using a different kind of equipment even though the standard is Wimax. You are free to pass by the office and test. Unfortunately we havenรขโ‚ฌโ„ขt deployed in Karen yet, the reason being the Karen Langatta Residence Association has not permitted us to put up our base station to facilitate connection in that area. Once this is done it will take less than 14days to install and there are a number of clients who have already signed up despite the delay.
    In regards to our corporate product, we will prepare a proposal on our entry level product with 32kbps uplink and 64kbps downlink which will sufficiently serve your three computers and I will forward to you soonest.

    Kind regards”

  29. BTW, how backwards or brain dead are these peeps?

    “the reason being the Karen Langatta Residence Association has not permitted us to put up our base station to facilitate connection in that area”

  30. Does anyone have any info on the availability of VOIP services. I’m looking to move some operations back home for cost purposes and of course “Ku Jenga Inchi”. If anyone has used any VOIP services please share your experience.


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