Internet connectivity focus now shifts to informal settlements
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INTERNET connections in slums in Kenya.

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THE scramble for numbers among internet service providers in Kenya is increasing by the day as new companies enter the everevolving and expanding market with a promise of excellent service.

The competition has not been made easy by the expanding list of companies venturing into this industry. No one can deny that internet is slowly becoming a basic necessity as opposed to a luxury.

In present day Kenya, for example, hardly would you find someone with a phone that is not internet enabled anywhere, including in the rural areas. In fact, it’s no longer a question of whether one is able to browse the internet or not, rather, talk revolves around which service provider offers best solutions to quench their thirst for internet.

Hence more and more people are constantly looking for a company that is eager to meet their demands in this regard. However these companies, both domestic and foreign, are seemingly appreciative of the dynamic nature of this market given that they have set their eyes on a group that would be considered marginalized.

This group wants a service provider that is able to deliver a reliable and affordable internet at all times. According to New Zealand’s marketing guru Tim Rosenbrook, Brands win or lose by how well they wow the customer.

“Once you have identified your customers, then put yourself in their shoes and ensure that whatever you are doing is correctly “customer focused”. He said. In his opinion, a good place to get this right is to start with some Customer Segmentation.

Successful companies now appear to hold this notion so dear. Forget the middle class, dwellers of informal settlements are the segment in demand. These often “no-go” areas have left shrewd entrepreneurs and major companies salivating for their “small” hard-earned monies.

Yet this small money could be the difference between a company registering mega profits or struggling to balance its books of accounts owing to lack of business. After all in East Africa they say “kidogo kidogo hujaza kibaba”.

(Swahili for little by little fills the pint). To reach this segment, the service providers have been engaging in price wars which have seen a fair share of reduction in internet costs in the country over the years.

If this trend was to continue, then the consumer is set to benefit greatly. In Kenya and all over the world, informal settlements host millions of people surviving on little income. Even with all the desire for luxury, these folks do not want to bear extra burden in the form of high internet costs.

Poa Internet recently entered the Kenyan market and is rapidly gaining a foothold in the city slum areas given that it has come in as a cheaper option, and most importantly targeting and focusing all its energies on communities in informal settlements.

The company’s Chief Executive Officer Andy Halsall notes that through efficiency and use of technology, internet providers could make profits by tapping the underserved low income earners by subsidizing internet cost.

“We see a huge market opportunity in these communities. They are currently not being serviced well by existing players in the market.” Mr. Halsall said Though the affordability of both mobile phones and data has seen almost every village in the country enjoy some level of internet connectivity, the high cost of bandwidth options available to support internet based businesses has seen these connections limited to just social networking and basic communication.

Halsall says by being far more efficient and leveraging on technology, internet service providers could benefit more by targeting low income earners. “We have different sets of technologies such as WIFI which allows us to build and operate networks at lower costs than some of the existing technologies such as fiber and cellular networks.” He says.

Speaking to the Kenya Broadcasting Corporation recently, the Poa Internet boss said he sees no reason for the high cost of internet even as he maintained that providers must employ latest technologies to create cost difference that allows them to offer reasonable prices for good services to their consumers.

In what can be termed as a privilege only for those residing in low income communities, Halsall notes that they have made it possible for one to access unlimited internet for up to an hour for just 10 shillings.

“We launched our services primarily in low income communities such as Kibera and Kawangware slums in Nairobi. We offer a public WI-FI service and we start for as low as Ksh.10. That gives you an hour of nonestop internet.” Said Halsall This price by Poa Internet according to Halsall is so small compared to that given by alternative service providers who are largely mobile phone operators.

He says, for a long time people would get an hour of internet for not less than Ksh.400. The firm says increased and affordable internet connections in the slums has seen unemployed youth tap overseas online jobs, which generates them income.

Poa Internet says it plans to expand the cheap internet offer from Nairobi slums to other towns such as Eldoret and Mombasa, before expanding to other parts of East Africa, in order to reach more masses.

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