KENYA'S SAFARICOM - ONE OF AFRICA'S "FIRST-MOVERS" ON GPRS

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What's the extent of your mobile data services?

It depends what you include in that term. Through our partnership with Wananchi (a Kenyan ISP), there are around 30,000 people using our e-mail service. That's not a lot when you consider that we have 2.1 million subscribers.

But SMS is hugely popular. We have the highest penetration in the Vodafone Group. 75% of all of our customers use SMS and send 4 million SMS messages a day.

Isn't that very high for Africa?

SMS is a great medium for communications for Africa. It's relatively simple to use and it's inexpensive. I made SMS free for those customers wanting to query their pre-pay balance and to top-up that balance but we made the equivalent service by voice available on a pay-for basis. It meant that subscribers had to learn how to use SMS.

What SMS services are available?

There's lots of SMS services available on our 411 service. There's between 200-400,000 messages a day both on a "push and a pull" basis. (Messages sent unrequested and requested). All our new phone SIM cards are 64K and when you install them a services menu comes up which the user can choose from.

How is the GPRS roll-out going?

Although we're meeting our targets, it's not going as quickly as I would like. There's a problem of education as most people have not seen the need for the service. It works well throughout almost all of Kenya and is therefore an ideal medium for the country. It will take time to get that message across. It took something like 6-12 months to get the message across about and given the investment we've made in GPRS, it's important we succeed.

In technical terms, what is GPRS? A software layer?

It's an overlay on top of the network, using some dedicated role channels to carry data. It means you can upload at 26K and download at 46K which is significantly faster than GSM data speeds.

What's the price tag on your GPRS investment?

Around 1 million euros.

How many subscribers are there at this early stage?

There's around 1,500 users and these are mainly corporate, early adopters who have laptops and PDAs. I'm ambitious that we have a huge uptake of GPRS this year. On the marketing front, I have to find another media other than print. When I show people personally, I sign them up so I know the proposition's right.

What are the costs?

If you don't have a 64K SIM card it will cost you KS15,000 and after that you'll pay KS0.4 per kilobyte and only pay for what you use.

I believe that every school, health clinic or office needs GPRS because in most cases they've got nothing else. For example, every hotel up-country is using expensive satellite bandwidth when they could be using GPRS. It would cost KS500 for a school to get an hour's access this way.

I know that if I did free trials, I would get an enormous amount of interest, probably more trial users than I could handle. So I remain confident that in due course we'll earn 10-15% of our revenues from data.