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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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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iPhone 4 locked to Three UK

If there was ever a pain in the rear quarters it would involve a slab of fancy glass, aluminium, plastic encasing even fancier electronics in the name of an Apple product that so happened to be sold by a certain telephone company trading as Three in the UK.

For those not in the know(And I hope that is very few) once you buy  an iphone who’s origin is “overseas” you better hope it is unlocked. This is to mean it is not locked to a particular network which would mean you are shit outta luck if you put your battered Safaricom or Celtel Sim card in it. It will look back at you like you cant afford it.

I happened to be given the seemingly simple task of unlocking an iPhone 4 for a pal. This ought to be more routine than a walk down the street or buying a smokie from one of those roadside guys but just like Murphy discovered, what can go wrong definitely does.

Of all the networks the damn thing could be locked to, it happened to be locked to Three. Unlocking it using the IMEI ( The only permanent and easiest method) happens to cost 5 times what unlocking from other networks costs. I actually googled it and there are zero alternatives. If the Phone happened to be from O2 or Verizon then I would have gotten away with a 3,000/- unlock but Three demands a 14,000/- payment. Damn you Cupertino.

I have no idea why there is such a discrepancy between providers from the same country but I have to assume it is because some manager somewhere is being anal. All I know is this is aking my life unreasonably expensive. It even stops being economically feasible.

A second hand unlocked iphone 4 on OLX costs 25,000/-. Little incentive to spend 15,000/- on an unlock on a used phone when you can get better quality and less battered hardware for 10,000/- extra.

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