Kenya’s Mobile Operators sharpen up their content offering strategy

Digital Content

Mobile phone operators are targeting county governments in the race for the rural market to grow their data businesses. And e-health and e-learning value-added services will be the next battlefront for telcos seeking to drive uptake of data services. In the past six months, the mobile market has witnessed intense price war on the voice front that has seen calling rates fall by more than 50 per cent.

The cost of voice calls fell in August to Sh3 per minute off-net and Sh2 per minute on-net and consumers can now send short text messages at a rock-bottom price of Sh1, effectively halving each subscriber's monthly budget for airtime. This has forced mobile phone operators to diversify into internet to cushion earnings from falling voice revenues.

Safaricom, whose voice segment has been accounting for nearly 80 per cent of its revenues, is seeking to unlock new revenue streams to maintain its profitability. The operator is widening its net to the corporate data market, through new technologies such as data storage and disaster recovery, cloud computing and managed IT services, which CEO Bob Collymore says will drive its growth.

Controlling about 75 per cent of Kenya's mobile phone market share, Safaricom has been strong in retail where it provides internet through mobile phones and modems, but now it's eyeing the more lucrative corporate and government contracts. This is has put it up against firms such as Access Kenya, Kenya Data Networks and Telkom Kenya that control a larger pie of the corporate market.

Last week, while in Diani, Mombasa for the Connected Kenya Summit, Collymore, said Safaricom is positioning itself to connect the county governments. This include services that ease processes such as registration of births and deaths, passport issuance, tax collection, security services and judicial system.

"Our connectivity solutions can also be deployed to link key governance and administration units and systems across the board to ensure seamless delivery of services in all parts of Kenya," he said. "Use of our teleconferencing facilities will completely transform communication between and within counties. The same is true for communication to and from the Central government."

Collymore arrived in Kenya last year during the week of the promulgation of the new Constitution to head East Africa biggest mobile phone operator. "We see the future of innovation as two-fold. It starts with listening to the questions Kenyans are asking and observing the challenges they are facing; and then answering those questions by providing solutions," he added.

"A quick look at the issue of devolved government and one can immediately see that the government will struggle administratively to take services to the people."

Safaricom is behind the virtual courtroom known as "Tele-Justice" that links different courts. The operator in partnership with Jamii and Cisco has connected the Nairobi and Mombasa court of appeal to allow for speedy hearing and ruling through a video link, commonly referred to as telepresence.

Collymore said the operator is working on a technology that will be used to deliver quality education that not only allows children to meet their academic goals but exposes them to a new world. "We cannot remain static as a provider of pure connectivity; a seller of the dumb pipe. We have to move up the data value chain."

It recently won the deal to provide connection between banks to facilitate the switch from paper to electronic cheques. It is set to unveil a tele-presence product into e-health, which allows a patient to consult a doctor through a "live experience" without having to travel to city hospitals. "A patient in Ugenya would just need to go to the nearest digital village at Sega for this service," he said. The operator says it has set up 800 digital villages and targets to push the number to 5,000.

Its rival, Telkom Kenya's Orange has lined up a free short message service to help the growing menace of counterfeit drugs. Under its e-health package, it has entered a deal fronted by its parent company France Telecom with a pan-African SMS-based solution provider mPedigree, starting with Kenya and Cameroon.

Subscribers will write a verification code hidden on each packet or bottle of medicine. Patients can submit this code via an SMS to check the authenticity of the drug against a database managed in Europe by mPedigree's partners. Telkom Kenya chief executive Mickael Ghossein says the firm would use health and education information as an entry point once it launches its 3G network in June.

The agreements mark the first steps of Orange's healthcare division in Africa and the Middle East, where the group operates in 20 countries and serves about 60 million mobile customers.

Telemedicine and online education, for example, help governments to ease the challenge of shortage of doctors and teachers while facilitating the achievement of Millennium Development Goals such as halving poverty by 2015.

The Ministry of Information and Communications has announced plans to link all district hospitals through telepresence technology. The intention is to enable clinical officers and nurses to be served by a single doctor based on patient requirements.