Kenya’s Mobile & Internet, by the Numbers (Q4 2010)

If you’ve been wondering what the numbers look like for Kenya’s mobile and ISP space, look no further than the latest CCK Report (Communications Commission of Kenya). It’s one of the best documents that I’ve seen, compiling information that you just can’t seem to find anywhere else.

Highlights of Q4 2010:

  • There are 22 million mobile subscribers in Kenya
  • 9.5% mobile subscriptions growth, which is increasing over the previous quarters
  • 6.63 billion minutes of local calls were made on the mobile networks
  • 740 million text messages were sent
  • Prepaid accounts for 99% of the total mobile subscriptions
  • The number of internet users was estimated at 8.69 million
  • The number of internet/data subscriptions is 3.2 million
  • Broadband subscriptions increased from 18,626 subscribers in the previous quarter to 84,726

Price Wars

Everyone recognizes the impact on SMS and voice, due to the price wars brought on by Airtel last year. The average, people are paying 2.65 Ksh per minute for voice representing 33.4%
reduction on pre-paid tariffs. It comes as no surprise that there was a 68.4% increase in traffic during this period, nearly triple the norm.

There’s nothing like a chart to bring this point home:

Interestingly, a decline in total number of text messages sent (4% less) was recorded. It’s an indicator that given the choice of lower cost voice, people would rather use that, and they do.

Safaricom lost 4.8% market share, from 80.1% to 75.9% (still massive). Surprisingly, it wasn’t Airtel who benefitied, as Orange made up for most of that with a 4.4% increase of their own. Airtel did lead the market by recording 1,143,353 new subscriptions, about 3x their closest competitor.

Internet

A whopping 99% of the internet traffic in Kenya is done via mobile operators, meaning 3G, Edge or GPRS. It’s to Safaricom’s credit that they moved on this early, not dithering around on data as their competition did, effectively taking the whole market.

My theory is that there are only two major players in the ISP space in Kenya. The first is Safaricom, supported by this report, who will own most of the country due to having an island strategy (mobile towers). This allows them to own all the rural areas and anyone who needs decent speeds and has to be mobile.

The other is the fiber bandwidth provider (ISP) who figures out and cracks the consumer market. The closest to doing this is Zuku (Wananchi) who started rolling out 8Mb/s high-speed fiber-to-the-home internet connections in Q4 2010 at only 3,499 Ksh ($45). These numbers aren’t reflected yet. My guess is that we’ll see Zuku tying up all the home internet connections in the major urban areas.

Estimates for those with internet access in Kenya is closing in on 9 million users, and at over 22% of the population, we can say we’re getting a lot closer to the critical mass needed for real web businesses and services to thrive.

Final Thoughts

Overall, the numbers on both mobile and internet are trending up, and at a very favorable rate. The indicators here prove that you should be paying a lot of attention to mobiles and data connectivity in Kenya.

If you’re a business, what’s your mobile plan? How are you providing and extending your services over the internet (and no, a website is not enough)?

If you’re an entrepreneur, how are you going to use this information to decide what to build? Are you paying attention to the wananchi, building apps for the upper class?

PDF of Report: CCK Report download – Kenya Q4 2010

Local Web Cache Lessons: Uganda

The chart you’re looking at is amazing. Orange Uganda has seen local traffic jump from 3Mbs to over 30Mbs in just two weeks due to partnering and implementing Google’s Global Cache. One wonders how much business they’re starting to chip away at from their competition.

In layman’s terms this means that once anyone in Uganda using Orange has visited a website (especially Google’s data heavy ones like YouTube, Google Maps or even Search results), that the content is cached locally. Once that is done, the next person to visit that same site gets it served to them locally, which is much faster than having their traffic make the round trip from Uganda to Europe.

There are 8 peering ISPs in Uganda, and only one of them is using Google Global Cache. Yet, below we see that Orange Uganda has made the whole country’s usage start to look like a hockey stick.

This begs the question, “why aren’t the other 7 peers using Google’s Global Cache?”

It also makes you wonder why more ISPs haven’t started using this in other countries. After all, it gives your users a distinct advantage, they get a much better user experience than they did before.

From all that I’ve heard, it sounds like each ISP is more interested in keeping their competition away from the Google Global Cache than they are about their customer’s experience. This means that they refuse to sign a deal with Google unless they’re the only ones who can use it, blocking out their competitors.

Take a moment to ponder this idiocy with me. Right now we’re all on equally crappy load times for data-heavy content, all of the ISPs suck at relatively the same level. If they all moved to Google’s Global Cache, they would still all be at relatively the same level, but it wouldn’t suck. Sure, no advantage gained over the competition, but a lot less pain to their users.

Here’s the kicker… with faster data speeds and load times, people use more data. Their profits would increase.

This is a perfect example where a rising tide would float all boats, but all the captains have decided they like to wallow in the mud instead.

[Note: Thanks to Tim McGinnis for the tip]

Digital Connectivity in Northern Kenya

A couple of people have wondered how I’m able to stay connected, to put up blog posts, update Facebook and tweet pictures to Twitter while in what would seem the true bush. Well, this is the true bush, but every once in a while you come upon an island. This island is where one of the mobile phone networks has dropped in a tower and a power supply for it.

The short answer

I carry all of the data modems available from Safaricom, Orange and Zain. I also carry my data connected mobile phone (this trip it’s the Nexus One), and an unlocked multi-purpose modem. To this I add my Acer Netbook, which I’d feel a lot better about losing than I would my Mac, and that completes the setup.

The long answer

In Gatab, on Mount Kulal, you can get two signals. One is Safaricom, that reaches all the way up the mountain (if you’re standing in the right spot) from Loyangalani on the shore of Lake Turkana. The other is from Orange Telkom, with a tower on the mountain itself. Both are powered by windmills.

Where else will you find a connection?

  • South Horr
  • Logologo
  • Laisamis
  • Loyangalani
  • Gatab
  • Baragoi
  • Marsabit

These are the towns that I know of with cell phone towers. Whenever you have a voice connection up here, you also have a GPRS connection (always Edge, never 3g). The Orange connection’s are CDMA, not the normal EVDO “3g+” speeds that you get in Nairobi and Mombasa.

Sometimes all you get is the one tree within 20km that gets a signal…