Kenya’s Safaricom edges quietly into the home space with the Big Box and possible FTTH option with Kenya Power

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Kenya’s Safaricom has taken its time positioning itself to attack the home connectivity market. But with the Big Box it’s now got an improved product it feels happy with and has other plans to strengthen its hand in the household space. Russell Southwood spoke to Safaricom’s Head of Strategy Ken Okwero about what’s on the horizon.

The Big Box is a set-top box that gives customers three things: 1) a DTT receiver for Free-To-Air TV signals; a Wi-Fi hot-spot to distribute connectivity in the household; and a 3G or 4G signal to receive mobile bandwidth for streaming and other uses. The box costs KS5,000 (US$48.42) and the customer then pays for a data bundle. The current offer (with 30 days validity) is as follows:

5GB              KS1199 (US$11.61)
15GB            KS3199 (US$30.98)
30GB            KS5999 (US$58.09)

It was initially launched in May 2015 but had a difficult birth. The product was withdrawn in August 2015, having sold only 1,500 of them against a sales target said to be 2.5 million. It was relaunched again in November 2015 with what were described as software upgrades. Having lowered the price of the box by half, the numbers are now up to over 4,000 on the last published figure, which is better but not spectacular.

According to Owero:”There were a couple of things we needed to fix, including optimising 4G indoors.” But was the 3G connection insufficient for streaming?:”That’s not exactly right. You only only need 2 mbps to stream and less on a small screen like a tablet.”

The Big Box allows customers to get access to the several hundred DTT channels that now exist in Kenya and also to access content from things like You Tube over the Internet connection. Okwero is cautious about how content on the box might develop:”We are looking at the future of content….Safaricom is not in the content space.” The Big Box was initially launched in May 2015. Following market feedback, a revamped version of the Big Box was launched in November 2015. This remains the current box in the market. The current fixed price for  the Big Box is KShs. 5,000

But a box with no pay-for content but Free-To-Air programmes seems strangely stranded. You can argue that it’s a dual function box - TV decoder and Internet modem – but that seems somewhat limiting.

Safaricom also recently announced the signing of an MOU with Kenya Power on FTTH:”We signed the MOU to analyse and see how we can partner better to accelerate implementation to the home and we are exploring how to do that. We want to create a win-win scenario.”

On the wider front, it now has 78% population coverage with 3G and “is continuing to expand that year on year.” It has now put equipment into the network that allows it to make easy hardware upgrades from 2G to 3G to 4G. In the next year to 18 months it will be expanding its 4G roll-out:”We’re always putting in effort to upgrade customers to 4G capable devices and we’ll be going into more rural areas.”
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