Kenya’s New Mobile Networks:The case for MVNOs

The buzz over the past few weeks in the telco sector has been the news that we will now have three new networks operating in the mobile scene offering voice, data and Value Added Services riding on existing infrastructure.

Competition is always welcome in any industry and cant wait to sample their services. It is interesting that two of the 3 new entrants have a financial background showing that the M-Pesa hype has hit home with players salivating after it. One is Equity Bank Group through a proxy, Finserve Africa Ltd. The other license holder is Mobile Pay Ltd who operate Tangaza Pesa, a money transfer service. Mode comes in third dealing in Value added services for the mobile sector.

All of these networks apparently will run on Airtel Kenya’s unused capacity which makes me wonder exactly how much of their spectrum sits idly while people complain of congestion on Safaricom. Orange have been whining that CCK denied them the license to offer the MVNOs its spectrum. Quite frankly I would have refused too seeing as they seem hell bent on sitting on resources.

James Mwangi, Chief Executive Officer and Mana...
James Mwangi, Chief Executive Officer and Managing Director, Equity Bank, Kenya, panelist, “Igniting Innovation in Financial Access: Public & Private Approaches for Greater Access by 2020” (Photo credit: World Bank Photo Collection)

From a financial and business viewpoint, this is a sweet deal for Airtel. Have your expensive spectrum utilized, get some money in the bank. For the likes of Finserve Africa, Mode and Mobile Pay things couldn’t look rosier. They are having entry to an already ripe market (some would argue already plateauing) for peanuts as compared to the likes of Safaricom and the fights, struggles that Yu had to go through to start operating.

Setting up Base stations, cabling, software, human resources, license fees and all sorts of other costs leaves mobile operations to the big boys with deep pockets. The new entrants will have to spend especially in marketing but no worries about hardware land issues and spectrum drama. One institution to watch is Finserve Africa simply because it has access to deep pockets with a grudge. A short walk down memory lane will have us see that the much hyped M-Shwari used to be called M-Kesho when the account used to sit with Equity Bank. I know not why they fell out but the resultant loss of footing in the mobile money landscape is something Equity will definitely want to resolve asap.

And now for some free advice from me to Equity Bank. This is a game of attrition. A case of replacing the incumbent. In this regard you want to do precisely the opposite of what they are doing. When it comes to the primary interface with the customer, the phone is king. This is where you want your SIM card to be an option. Do not sell or promote single SIM devices at any cost. Exclusively flog dual SIM or triple SIM devices if and when the show up. The idea is to find space next to Safaricom in users lives. Do not seek to replace because you will fail miserably like Orange, Airtel and Yu. Once you sit next to Safaricom, Make everything cheaper and extremely tightly integrated with Equity bank accounts. All Equity customers are likely to get a SIM card just to see what this new fangled thing is from their favourite bank.

Now to slowly convert followers, offer everything cheaper than Safaricom. Whether its Data, SMS, Money Transfer etc. Then be more flexible than Safaricom in terms of modifying the product to fit your customers. Also being a bank, finally sort out this international payments thing with the CBK to make Paypal and related transactions seamless. Be the defacto payment method for online commerce tied to the mobile phone and you will have all the techies singing your name.

Attack Safaricom on fronts tat they would rather not fight in like opening the mobile money API to the internet for e-commerce.

This remains to be an eventful year and I cant wait to find a way to jump into it.

 

 

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Airtel Kenya

I don’t understand some companies.

I imagine that the primary motivation for a commercial company is profit. For a mass market company that profit lies with the consumers. Keeping our consumers happy is thus a reasonable way of getting more money = happy shareholders. Keeping them infuriated is not a good plan.

Back when they were still Celtel or Zain, I got myself a postpaid line since I ad an online gig that needed near constant internet. Back then accessing net was either at a cyber(expensive and movement restricting) or getting a mobile connection(still expensive and slow but doable)

I used to pay what I pay now for my Zuku connection so I expected proper services. It was fine technically for the most part considering the times and the options available.  At some point they decided to ‘revamp’ the postpaid offering. The resulting interaction led to my breaking of he contract.

The deal we had was this. I pay 4,000/- a month and get unlimited internet and 1000/- for voice /SMS usage. Pretty ok and I had no desire to leave this arrangement. The new plan was more or less the same but voice was cheaper so of course I signed on. Once the new postpaid plan was launched they decided that I no longer needed unlimited internet and started billing per MB. All without as much as sending an SMS or email about it. Come the end of the month I am presented with a bill for 45,000/- bob. The ensuing correspondence between us was basically threats about me signing a contract and needing to pay and nonsense about my phone being off when they tried to reach me.

 I just threw away the line and let them keep the deposit.

Recently I came upon Airtel airtime vouchers that was unused for a past project. The vouchers had since expired and thus unusable.

I have had similar predicaments with both Orange and Safaricom and the matter was dealt with swiftly usually by extending the expiry of the cards and rendering them active again. As explained by @tommakau here it is not a prudent policy for telcos to extend the lifespan of  their consumable products but simply refusing to enable consumers to use legitimately purchased resources is just ridiculous.

Calls to the customer care were unfruitful, Twitter responses were the standard ‘ give us your no. and we get back to you’ (They haven’t.), visits to the Customer centers result in a blank look and my cards being slid across the table back to me. Basically the message is ‘ You shouldn’t have let them expire in the first place.’ For the most part they have no idea what to do with them. Replacing or sorting you out is seemingly not amongst their options.

I now have 3,000/- bob worth of Airtel airtime and the best I can do with it is use them as table wedges or kindling for fire.

 

 

 

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Orange Kenya: Most Infuriating Sleeping Giant

So today I woke up to this from the folks over a @orange_kenya

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Which is a follow up to a full page ad from yesterday where they prove to be the cheaper option for making calls either way you slice it.

Have been an Orange customer since they started operations and I am particularly a sucker for their brand and marketing. Whoever manages this is pretty good at their job. The marketing is however miles away from the actual service that you recieve. I have for instance been complaining about the notification of the end of an unlimited internet subscription cycle. Currently at the end of the month data just starts using your airtime. An SMS a day before this happens would enable me to promptly subscribe again for the next month. But now I am left with no Airtime, no data and feeling annoyed.

Either way Orange are a giant that has been sitting in its own pee for a long time and at least I think they are now starting to think of taking on the new giant whom they allowed to grow up.

I have always advocated for the underdogs to accept their place and work with it instead of calling themselves leading anything. Safaricom is the mother and father of the telco industry as it stands. Market dual SIM phones like your life depends on it, because it does. Orange should infact be only selling Dual SIM versions of all the popular hardware. And sell them at cost. Then market your network as cheap for calls and data. Dont ask anyone to dump Safaricom because they wont. My Safaricom line has never left my side and remains my main line. I however make most of my calls and data and text from my Orange line for purely economic reasons.

Invite users to try out your ecosystem without destabilizing their routine. Cannibalize Safaricom’s market slowly and eventually profits will come.

The way out is not in price wars as Airtel has realized. Be the side chick and even though you may never manage to replace the wife, you will get most of the money. Which is the whole point anyway. Dont seek to replace Safaricoms SIM, fight for space next to it. There is a reason Safaricom never sells any Twin SIM handset. Its a mortal threat and they know it.

I thought Yu were going to go this route but they just joined the Line and are now angling for an exit.

Orang has another Troika in its arsenal but is content with leaving it as a dumb data pipe. The CDMA network that the predecessor Telkom Kenya worked so hard to build is basically now Modemland. Launch a slew of Smartphones that run on CDMA and sell them for cheap. Make data on this network cheaper than on GSM because I believe technically this is the case. Now you know that anyone who buys this handset is not going anywhere and the tech assures this.

Why they are not negotiating with AT&T for their old iphone 4 s that run on CDMA to resell locally for super cheap is puzzling. Here they have a network hat is  mostly idle that assures lock in and revenue and they do nothing to monetize it.

Meanwhile lets see how much money Safaricom makes this quarter.

 

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Apple Ecosystem

Apple gets a lot of flack for being seen as the epitome of wealthy consumerist culture.  I suppose being at the top attracts al the haters on the planet. I used to be in that bandwagon and regularly gagged when I heard the prices of their computers, laptops, and phones. Used to wonder what kinda morons would spend their money on a brand name when you could get a machine with higher specs for a fraction of the price.

I was soon to eat my words when I got myself a Macbook Pro. The build quality, stability and support from the mothership was amazing. It helps when there are limited versions of a product from a company thus allowing a critical mass of users for them to be able to iron out any flaws. It also allows for a better design.

Anyhoo, last week my harddrive finally died after warning me for many months. I tried doing what Apple suggests and walked into one of their resellers or service centers and asked them what a replacement would cost. The figures quoted were beyond ridiculous. They even wanted to charge me for installing the OS. A whole 6,000 bob.  Please note that every Macbook comes with OSX and so it follows if I show up with a macbook, then at some point OSX was installed on it. To charge me to return it to that state is rather ridiculous and actually illustrates why people see Apple as a money hungry beast.

I decided to just buy a harddisk of the shelf and I managed to get a 1TB disk from Bestell in town and bought the T3 screwdriver set long Luthuli Avenue and replaced the harddisk myself using the iFixit guides.

Am not rich so paying some guy to pop a DVD into my drive and clicking Next didn’t sound like a plan. Attempts at cloning my drive were fruitless as the thing was barely spinning up.

I was frustrated and just went home, connected to ethernet and switched it on. Didn’t know what to expect but after a minute or two it asked me if I want to start internet recovery. I had few options and so said yes. Long story short, it downloaded a bunch of files and installed  a recovery partition after which I was asked if want to install OSX Mountain Lion. It downloaded the files and installed with very little intervention from me.

I doubt there are any other software platforms that offer such a service from a fresh harddisk with no software on it. Ofcourse this means that there is some rudimentary or maybe not so rudimentary OS that runs above whatever is running on the harddisk and that connect to the internet and send or receive whatever it wants. This is clearly a nightmare to security conscious people but this is a non issue for me. I am not running a govt agency from my laptop, yet.

I am liking this also throwing in the free software upgrades and maturing ecosystem I am slowly getting sucked into the Apple Universe. I hate the locked up nature though and this may be what will prevent me from getting an iPhone. Its too limiting and they have no twin SIM configurations. Thats a deal breaker.

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Safaricom 3G underperforming

I intend to keep my interactions with Safaricom to a minimum because contrary to their impressive PR machine they are not affordable at all. I kinda like keeping money in my wallet where possible and Safaricom tends not to like that. Not that I have a problem with their profits or anything. I think anyone who is smart enough should make as much money from the market as is sensible. They also have the best Customer Service this side of the continent. That helps.

I am usually on orange for data and voice and mostly on Safaricom for MPesa.

Early last week, I got sent to Kwale by the office and knowing that the only hope of getting broadband here is through Safaricom, I promptly bought 1GB of data and prepared to instagram the sh** out of some palm trees. The experience I go was far from broadband and could only be described as EDGE on Heroin. I could barely do anything despite the network icon indicating I was on HSDPA+.

Side Bar::

When looking for todays weather forecast, came across this:

http://www.meteo.go.ke/pws/wx/web.mpg

Can’t make this stuff up.

End of Side Bar::

Now for Safaricom to have such issues makes a mockery of the premiums they charge.

Thinking this was an extension of the Pwani-sio-Kenya vibe i tried it out when I went upcountry to Nyeri. The performance was better but more sluggish than expected. I discovered this morning that my case was not isolated and as of yet no word from the affable CEO to anyone from the rank and file. This may not register on the QoS dashboard of the line managers but I think a sizable no. of subscribers is affected.

Not a problem anymore for me though when in the city  since I am on Orange on the go and Wifi at work and home.

 

 

 

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Tecno Phantom A+: First Impression and how to root

Soon after being relieved of my second Tecno smartphone I stuck to my policy of buying electronics. Its pretty simple buy more expensive in the event that I am careless and loose or are relieved of said gadget. I decided to always replace any gadget I loose with a better and more expensive one as soon as I can.

In order to adhere to the Mwangi policy, I proceeded to call up one Gideon Sigei, my go to guy for all things Tecno.  Since buying the N7 there have been several launches of droids sporting Android 4.2 most in the mid-range on price and feature sets. I wasn’t that interested in getting something I had previously owned. I thus went for the Tecno F7 (They call it the Tecno Phantom A+ but ain’t that such a mouthful?)

I gotta say I expected way less for the 20,000/- that was asked for the unit. I get a quad core  processor, a gig of ram, a GB of internal storage and an 8GB men card. Comes with a 5 inch screen in a better form factor than the Tecno N7 which was/is quite bulky in the hand, pocket and even on the desk. Its also lighter and easier on the eyes.

I tend not to store much on the phone apart from say a couple of pics and using the storage like portable storage. Tecno however need to try and up the internal storage, its really lagging behind competitors on this front anyway.

The 971mb ram seems to be handling tasks just fine with barely any lag or jittery operations.

Tecno Quadcore
Tecno Quadcore

Holding this phone in your hand makes you wonder exactly why you would buy a Samsung    phone. I know I am NOT getting a software upgrade to KitKat while some Samsung handsets will get an upgrade. I also have less internal storage but is that sufficient to warrant double the price for similar specs?

Well I will stick to my broke lanes while holding a gadget faster than my PC for half what it cost me several years ago.

Now for all the tinkerers out there here is how to root the gadget.

Requirements:

  • Windows 7 PC/laptop
  • ADB drivers(Just download the Android SDK and it should have all you need.)
  • eroot v1.3.3 found here

Now simply connect your phone to the PC and run the eroot software. Its in Chinese so you won’t understand much of what is going on(unless you are chines that is.) The only button you need is labelled ‘root’ and just click on it and thats it. Your Tecno F7 is rooted.

I doubt there is a need for a custom rom at this stage unless you are some kind of modding freak. Anyhow I have not explored past here.

 

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Securing your Smartphone : Antitheft Software

Smartphones have become a vital part of modern life at least to most urban dwellers of my age. I still meet people my age who can easily afford a smartphone but still operate rudimentary devices and I can’t help but be puzzled.

With the ever increasing computing power in our pockets, a lot of our lives is managed through the touchscreen be it managing finances, love lives, business or pleasure most of us turn to the palm sized bricks in our pockets.

Losing your smartphone thus becomes a micro nightmare especially if you saved a tiny fortune to keep up with the trends. Kenya Orient insurance have recently launched a mobile insurance product that is rather discriminative in terms of the gadgets they consider qualify for insurance cover. All I know is my Chinese android gadget is not swanky enough to merit insurance. Their loss either way.

So I recently got mugged and lost my phone (A Tecno N7) that was more infamous for its humongous size than for its tacky brand. I must say for its price point it more than delivered on it promise and I pretty much managed my life through it be it todo lists, maintaining social contacts, and planning work. The google navigation also saved our skin several times when making road trips.

On advice from a good friend,  I had installed avast! mobile security suite that includes backup, antitheft, antivirus etc. I was rather sceptical about the abilities of the antitheft module but I have now swallowed my words. I installed it as a system application and obfuscated it by giving it some generic name so that it doesn’t raise alarm amongst the bandit fraternity.

I was headed for Kericho the following day and so did not even report to the police or even attempt to lock or wipe remotely. A week later after a trans rift valley road trip, I settled down to see how useless or useful the avast! app was. There was no response for a few days and I assumed that the damn thing was already uninstalled. This morning however I logged on to the avast account dashboard and there it was. The bloidy pilferer in glorious GPS.

Gotta hand it to him though he aint daft. Whoever he sold it to is in Morogoro, Tanzania. Crossing borders makes it that much harder for the authorities to nail the bastard. If he was still in Kenya I would have his name by now and would be pestering the cops to nail the guy seeing as I would have his current position and no. and interactions.

Culprit's GPS positions

 

Apparently the root app is not so easy to get rid off however many times you factory reset. And it will not budge if you don’t know the PIN, which I only know. . muhahaha.

So now my interest was piqued. I promptly asked to receive all call and SMS activity sent to my line.  and they started trickling in. If this is anything to go by, then being a smartphone thug is becoming more and more dangerous.

Le Bagga

 

For now this is pure entertainment and the thought that the guy is having his airtime drain inexplicably is hilarious from all the way over here.

For now lemme watch.

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How Windows Phone could be salvaged

If there are investors that are not believing their misfortune it must be Research In Motion shareholders. watching your company move from dominating the smartphone market to limping about like an old diseased dog must be absolutely devastating.

Blackberry footsied about ignoring the growing dominance of iOS and Android devices and the rest as they say is history. At some point my adventurous self tried out the Blackberry Storm 2 and I must say save for the awesome camera the rest of the phone was crap. Slow to respond, heavier than a brick with some weird tactile feedback screen and the worst battery life I have ever seen in a new smartphone. Reminded me of pre 2008 laptops.

English: The BlackBerry Storm 9530 smartphone.
English: The BlackBerry Storm 9530 smartphone. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

But the one place Blackberry ruled and is still dominant to date is in the enterprise/corporate world. Suit wearers love the email and security features built into the device and I still see corporate types donning Blackberries albeit less and less.

And this is where the cousin of Blackberry (at least in the insignificant market share family) should be capitalizing and getting a foothold. As far as I can tell the dominant OS on most corporate desktops is still windows. Throw in a well thought out affordable windows tablet that can easily be hooked up to the offices intranet and CEOs will stop buying iPads. Put the same amount of effort if not more into a security and work conscious Windows phone and CEOs and their minions will go the Windows phone way. Make the entire ecosystem so rock solid and seamless that Windows phone becomes the default corporate hardware.

English: Picture from the Samsung Omnia 7 (als...
English: Picture from the Samsung Omnia 7 (also known as Samsung I8700) with Windows Phone 7 Homescreen. Deutsch: Bild des Samsung Omnia 7 (auch bekannt als Samsung I8700) mit Windows Phone 7 Homescreen. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Forget the consumer market for now, you will get them later. Fighting the Samsung galaxy’s and iPhones now is not going to be easy and a lot of marketing dollars will be wasted. Go for the sure budgets and they will soon trickle into the consumer market, just like the Blackberries did. Then take the entire Blackberry model where they have preferential data rates etc. Hell buy Blackberry outright. Why not? They are cheap enough now.

Wasting time fighting with Android gadgets about who is prettiest is only wasting their money flogging a limping horse.

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How to Root the Tecno N7 and install CWM

The Users of the Tecno N7 know what a bargain the device is and for the enthusiastic modders and those wanting maximum control of their device, having root is important.

Being a chinese device there isn’t much that happens in the mainstream developer circles (XDA) concerning it but there is an active community complete with very easy to use tools that you can use to root your ching chong thing and have just as much fun as the rest of the android crowd.

Now few of the regular tools seem to work so I dug around the interwebs till I found the simplest rooting tool ever. It goes by the name SRSRoot and all it needs is adb drivers and you are good to go. Be warned though that it needs internet access to talk to its servers. This got me worried for abit before I realised I barely know what rootkits Google has hidden in the OS for the US govt and that I barely have any sensitive info on the phone anyway. All you do is click root and it looks for the best way to do it and does it. Pretty simple and straightforward.

Screenshot_2013-09-03-14-21-03[1] Screenshot_2013-09-03-14-20-51[1]

Installing CWM was the hardest part no small part for the reason stated before, the community is still small.

I however found a no brainer resource that shows you step by step how to generate a CWM recovery for your device.

Requirements:

  • A windows 7 based PC or Laptop
  • ADB drivers installed on your machine
  • MTK Droid Tools v2.4.8 which can be found here
  • Tutorial which is to be found here
  • If you want to dump your ROM or backup here is a tutorial

Its a pretty straight forward process where the  software will do all the heavy lifting for you leaving you with a custom made recovery for the Tecno N7 allowing you to flash whatever zip you fancy and to mod it to your hearts content with custom themes etc. I believe the procedure will work with just about any other chinese or otherwise device that is based on the Mediatek chipsets. Ie if your processor is MTKxxx then this is likely to work. Just about all Chinese made phones i.e mi-Fone, Tecno, etc have MTKxxx chipsets and should work. It creates a custom recovery based on CWM specifically for your device. It doesn’t get more custom than that.

MTKdroidroot

 

I am informed that Tecno have not released the kernel source and thus building a custom ROM for the device will be impossible.  I don’t know how true that is since there are some for the N3 so there may be hope yet.

I went through all this trouble because of a problem with installing Google play services on this device. It kept popping an error when it tried to install and it was driving me nuts. Some apps require it to run e.g Foursquare, Hangouts, Avast Mobile Security etc.

All I did was clear the dalvik cache and wipe all the phone memory (that is do a factory reset and wipe ) and flash the gapps for ICS again from CWM and I was back in business.

Try it out and tell me what you think.

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Tecno n7

Being an Android loyalist, for the purpose of preserving the notes in my wallet, I only buy android handsets. They happen to be the only kind of smartphones that can hold 2 SIMs. This helps alot when I need MPesa but also need Orange Kenya’s cheap internet.

Samsung products are in my opinion overpriced for what they wind up delivering compared to their Chinese counterparts. But then again these may just be sentiments from a broke guy and I might have to eat my words sooner rather than later.

The first phone I tried out due to its price point was the Mi-Fone A351 for about 6,000/-. It was bought in a hurry since I was travelling and needed a smartphone. It also seemed to have reasonable specs . Humongous mistake. The build quality was atrocious, it crashed every other hour and simple things that even the Huawei Ideos could handle it struggled with. For instance when an app crashes, I cannot report to google the play store keeps crashing.

Later I got a chance to get something better and I decided that Tecno deserved a chance. Their previous offerings have been solid in performance and basically delivered precisely what was suggested on the box without fail. That tends to be important.

I fired up Olx and looked for the nearest deal. long story short I got a Tecno N7 for a steal and was pretty proud of myself, for a while.

It has pretty much what you would expect in a midrange phone with features balancing out. It has a dual core processor, 5 inch screen, 4GB internal storage(About 700MB available for apps and 2GB for your other stuff) a 5 MP shooter at the back, 1.3 MP at the front and the usual sensors, compass, accelerometer, GPS etc.
image

I was pretty proud of myself until I updated the google play store. There is this app called Google Play Services that is supposed to do mysterious things on behalf  of google for developers of apps or vice versa. All I know is some of the apps I need want it and refuse to work otherwise. Case in point Foursquare. For those with space issues, the app is humongous like 20MB and so it is not popular with them. I hate it for a totally different reason though am not sure whether its Google or Tecno at fault here.  The app simply refuses to install claiming it is incompatible with another app with the same shared user ID. Google just gives me people with similar issues albeit its not so widespread.
image

image
image

The soft keys at the bottom of the screen also only work when they are in the mood. I donno if this is a flaw with my particular handset or if this happens to all Tecno N7s.

But Aside from that everything else works fine and the humongous screen is just the best when watching the downfall of Miley Cyrus.

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