Tuesday 24 March 2020

Kenya has a Model Mobile Market

According to the latest sector statistics report from the regulator, 'Communications Authority of Kenya', The number of active mobile subscriptions (SIM Cards) in the country stood at 53.2 million as at 30th September 2019, up from 52.2 million subscriptions reported at the end of June 2019. This translated to mobile (SIM) penetration level of 112.0%. The high mobile SIM penetration is attributed to the increasing availability and access to mobile networks signal and a variety of convenient mobile services. Available data indicates that at least 2G and 3G covers 96 per cent and 93 per cent of the population respectively. The Authority is driving a number of initiatives to close access gaps including; voice infrastructure and school broadband connectivity projects under the Universal Service Fund (USF), enforcement of operator’s license obligations and licensing of additional frequencies that support mobile services. SIM penetration in the country remains above 100 percent due to multiple SIM ownership among users of cellular services.

The following network operators are active in Kenya:

Airtel (formerly Zain) - to be merged with Telkom
Telkom (formerly Orange) - to be merged with Airtel
Faiba 4G (on 4G-only)

The statistics from the 'Communications Authority of Kenya' include the MVNO's Equitel and Mobile Pay Limited separately. While data about Faiba 4G is not included. Equitel uses Airtel network while we are not sure which network Tangaza Pesa (brand name for Mobile Pay Limited) uses.

2G is on 900 and 1800 MHz and 3G on 2100 MHz on all three providers. 4G/LTE has started in 2014 with Safaricom on 800 (B20) and 1800 MHz (B3) and has started with Airtel on 800 MHz (B20).. In 2017 Faiba launched its 4G-only network in a very limited area of the country.

In 2019 Telkom and Airtel Kenya announced the merging of  their mobile businesses in order to operate under a joint venture company to be known as Airtel-Telkom to create a stronger challenger to market leader Safaricom. Airtel and Telkom said that both brands, as well as their respective products and solutions, will continue to co-exist, and service delivery will continue to operate as usual. The finalisation and closure of the transaction is subject to approval by the relevant authorities.

Coverage is pretty good, except for the very remote areas in the north, but mobile towers are sometimes overload, which leads to slow speeds. But the mobile network is rapidly being expanded.

In Kenya mobile phones are often used as a payment method. So advanced payment systems are employed by all three providers for all kinds of payments. Even a first MVNO called Equitel that started in 2014 as a subsidiary of a local bank provides only banking and payment services so far.

Safaricom is the dominant provider in the country. It's co-owned by Vodafone and the public. In 2017 it had 30 million subscribers giving it a whopping 76% of the national base and the best coverage even in remote areas. Because of its many users though, it can be overcrowded and suffer from slow speeds.

4G/LTE has started in 2014 in the cities of Nairobi and Mombasa on 800 and 1800 MHz. This was extended in 2016 to the towns of Nakuru, Elodret, Meru, Kisii and Kisumu and further towns followe for 4G and a 80% 3G coverage is intended. In 2017 4G/LTE is present in all 47 counties of Kenya covering about 1/3 of the population.

Safaricom's payment system is called M-Pesa and is the most used in the country.
Airtel, owned by Indian Bharti Airtel is the second provider in the country. They won the customers of YU after their closure in 2014 and have 15.5% of the national user base in 2017. It's coverage is not as good as Safaricom, but still covers 75% of population in 2016 by 3G.

In 2017 Airtel began trialling a 4G/LTE network in the capital Nairobi and has it has been expanded to 45 other sites in major towns, including Mombasa and Kisumu within the year. In 2018 it bought their license on band 20 (800 MHz) and in May Airtel announced the commercial launch of 4G/LTE services. Coverage is currently available in the cities of Nairobi and Mombasa, although the network will be expanded to other locations in due course.

In 2019 Airtel and Telkom have announced to merge their networks pending approval of the authorities to maintain both brands under a new combined Airtel-Telkom network.

Telkom in Kenya is the smallest provider caring for only 8% of the country's users. It was sold by Orange Group to private equity firm Helios Investment Partners in June 2016. Helios holds 60% and the Government of Kenya the rest. They have dropped the Orange brand and adopted Telkom as its new trading name in 2017.

It has the lowest coverage in the country, but because of their few users, it can give great speeds, where covered. In 2015 the migration from their old CDMA to GSM network has been completed and its CDMA network is now closed down. 4G/LTE has started in the towns of Nairobi, Mombasa and Kisumu and has spread to 17 further towns so far. 2G coverage is at 95% and 3G at 55% in 2017.

In 2019 Airtel and Telkom have announced to merge their networks pending approval of the authorities to maintain both brands under a new combined Airtel-Telkom network.

Faiba 4G by triple-play provider Jamii Telecommunications Ltd. (JTL) started in December 2017 in a very limited area a 4G-only network on 700 MHz (Band 28). There is no fallback to 2G or 3G and all voice services are provided through VoLTE.

At their launch, Faiba had 300 base stations with a target of achieving 1000 stations by 2020. JTL says that Faiba customers can achieve up to 72 Mbps speeds. Faiba is so far available in the following areas: Nairobi, Mombasa, Nakuru, Eldoret, Kisumu and Thika.

Earlier this week President Uhuru Kenyatta announced the approval of Google Loon Services in Kenya to enable universal 4G data coverage in the country.

He said the approval was in line with Government’s measures to respond to the disruptions caused by the global Coronavirus pandemic that has seen many people work from home to avoid contracting the respiratory illness.  He announced that the Kenya Civil Aviation Authority (KCAA) has signed an agreement with Google Loon that allows Loon Balloons to fly over Kenyan airspace.

These balloons, which will hover well above Kenya's commercial airspace, carry 4G base stations and have the capacity to provide wider signal coverage.

The President also said the new development will enable Kenya to retain her competitive advantages in ICT and innovation in the midst of the current crisis; while at the same time laying the foundation for greater expansion once the current health challenge is contained.

The President said Telkom Kenya and Google have been testing the 4G data network and will roll out the commercial service as soon as the balloons are available in the Kenyan airspace. Once inaugurated, this service will extend Telkom Kenya’s 4G network to areas that currently are not covered by any of the Kenyan mobile network providers.

The service will also boost online learning as it will allow teachers and students to access education materials remotely. While citing the recently set up telemedicine centre for Coronavirus detection at Kenyatta National Hospital, the President said Kenyans should be proud of their country’s pole position in technology and innovations.

Loon is a network of balloons travelling on the edge of space, delivering connectivity to people in unserved and underserved communities around the world.

It has taken the most essential components of a cell tower and redesigned them to be light and durable enough to be carried by a balloon 20 km up, on the edge of space. Loon balloons are designed and manufactured to endure the harsh conditions in the stratosphere, where winds can blow over 100 km/hr, and temperatures can drop as low as -90° C.

Loon in partnership with Telkom will pilot an innovative new 4G/LTE access network service in Kenya. This will be Loon’s first commercial service in Africa. The Loon service is an innovative approach to providing extended 4G/LTE coverage to rural and suburban areas with lower population densities, using high altitude balloons operating 20 kilometres (60,000 feet) above sea level, well above air traffic, wildlife, and weather events. The balloons act as floating cell towers, transmitting a provider’s service – in this case, Telkom’s service – directly to a subscriber’s existing 4G/LTE phone below. Loon’s equipment is powered by onboard solar panels.

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