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Safaricom rivals must raise the bar

In 2002, when Safaricom introduced per-second billing, the cheapest airtime cards available from Kencell cost Sh300. Many of us remember what caused the migration from Kencell to what was then packaged as The Better Option. This was simply because the airtime available was rather expensive and speaking for 10 seconds cost as much as speaking for 60 seconds.

In 2002, when Safaricom introduced per-second billing, the cheapest airtime cards available from Kencell cost Sh300. FILE PHOTO | NMG

I read with much interest the opinion piece Competitive telcos market good for user by Telkom CEO Aldo Mareuse published on Monday, August 13 in the Business Daily. I found it useful that Mr Mareuse thinks the customer would benefit most from a declaration of Safaricom as dominant.Unfortunately, he used some of the facts available to craft a story that would be hard to believe for people who were here before the mobile phone became a crucial part of life.First, he posits that the move from per-minute to per-second billing was merely a result of operators trying to outdo each other.

In 2002, when Safaricom introduced per-second billing, the cheapest airtime cards available from Kencell cost Sh300. Many of us remember what caused the migration from Kencell to what was then packaged as The Better Option.This was simply because the airtime available was rather expensive and speaking for 10 seconds cost as much as speaking for 60 seconds.These were not just operators trying to outdo each other. This was an operator catering to the needs of their customers.Similar trends have helped get many of us hooked to Safaricom — MPesa, the ability to remain connected in many parts of the country, the free customer care on 100 —and frankly, a number of customers have seen no reason to leave.Second, whenever the dominance matter comes up, the question that the users Mr Mareuse places at the centre of his argument ask is: what is in it for me?So far, the players that seek to have Safaricom declared dominant are yet to tell users what more they would do if that decision was made.Third, as he states that Telkom has invested Sh8 billion in network expansion and infrastructure rollout in the past two years, Mr Mareuse fails to mention the fact that Telkom sold 97 per cent its masts.Curiously, sharing of telcos towers is among the proposals that Telkom, Airtel and other players have made to the regulator.Did Telkom sell its towers only to turn around and say they wish to share what others have built and maintained?Fourth, chief among the reasons that Safaricom receives a lot of flak from other telcos is, apparently, the large profits it makes.Forgotten or ignored in this is the fact that we never really get to know how much money the others make, and how much of that remains in Kenya or is shared out with Kenyan investors and how much is carted away to build other economies.Lastly, although Mr Mareuse claims that one player controls 95 per cent of the market share and value, the truth is recent events have shown that it is possible for a player to enter the market and secure a significant share.We have seen it with the reported growth of Airtel’s market share and with the companies that have been rolling out data services with much success across the country. Around the world, voice and SMS segments are plateauing.What are Airtel and Telkom doing for the consumer as the world migrates to data? How much are they investing in the Kenyan market to keep the Kenyan consumer at cutting edge?In conclusion, even as ‘smaller players’ seek to get a bigger share of the market and make money for their shareholders, Mr Mareuse has not supported well enough the proposal to put the brakes on rather than celebrate a successful Kenyan company.What realistic solution or model – apart from taking Safaricom’s success – is he offering? We are listening.

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