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KDN’s Wi-Fi service called Butterfly has been offered for free with no login page on the basis of a word-of-mouth “whispering” campaign and the results have thrown up some potential surprises about the shape and size of the Kenyan market and what the users really want.

The free trial took place over a public holiday when there would be plenty of bandwidth available. According to KDN’s CEO Kai Wulff:”We wanted to see where our traffic threshold was. It got up to 22,000 users and then we were smoked away. There were things like corrupted config files occurring.” When it crashed, it was provisioned for 40 megs up and 40 megs down.

The significance of the test is that there are 22,000 users with separate MAC addresses using Wi-Fi-enabled devices, purely on the basis of spreading news about the offer on a word-of-mouth basis. It guesses that the figure may actually be double or triple that number. KDN itself has sold around 2,000 Wi-Fi cards in the last few months. At present, Wulff says that:”A broadband service costs on average around KS30,000 a month and I’m confident that by the end of the year there will be 20-30,000 users on a pay-for basis.”

Interestingly, customer expectations have gone up considerably with the provision of the Wi-Fi service. Wulff says:”Customers expect the service to be like a leased line. When they see the Wi-Fi indicator going from 48 meg to 36 meg, I start to get customers ringing me on my mobile.”

So what was the demand from customers over the free period? Lots were browsing international content. There was a lot of VoIP usage, particularly Skype, where users were phoning each other both within the country and outside it. The network was offered without bandwidth restrictions and it enabled peer-to-peer services like Skype to work well. Apparently lots of students found out about the offer and went out and bought Wi-Fi cards to take advantage of it. Peak use period was after-office hours between 7-9 pm.

On a pay for basis, VoIP use (by traffic) on the KDN network is between 10-15% but rises to 20% on the Butterfly service. It’s possible to have a Skype conversation between two people without delays. Unfortunately users are not as security conscious with Skype and viruses are now being spread by users.

KDN is now offering all its ADSL 2 customers (unless they specifically request otherwise) Funkwerk modems with Wi-Fi capability. Out of the 24 meg capacity, 4 meg is devoted to Wi-Fi, in effect creating lots of little base stations and thus rolling out coverage to an ever wider number of places.

It has tested IP-TV over Wi-Fi and although this is not yet commercially available, it is talking to KTN about offering content.