20 April 2017

Kenya: Why Facebook's Express Wi-Fi Is Going to Be a Game Changer in Kenya

Nairobi — Local internet service providers have a very big reason to worry with the launch of a public Wi-Fi.

ISPs failure to be innovative and high prices on data bundles has opened an opportunity for players who are willing to think outside the box.

Surf, the company that recently launched public Wi-Fi to Kenya through a partnership with Facebook and Internet Solutions - is about to revolutionize internet delivery.

Eighteen months ago, the founders of the America-incubated company - which includes CEO of the company Mark Summer - had an idea; to provide Wi-Fi in public places across Kenya.

"For the longest time, Wi-Fi in Kenya has been a reserve of people in offices, schools or upmarket restaurants. People have for instance had to pay Sh300 for a cup of coffee which comes with Wi-Fi. We are however targeting a different demography that includes the consumer market which has been underserved, with available options in these places being too expensive compared to what people earn," says Summer.

Hence, Express Wi-Fi was born, allowing Surf to take internet service to a market that had been neglected.

When launching a Wi-Fi hotspot, the company focuses on areas that are abuzz with activity and has ample flow of people. This may include matatu stages, chill spots and markets.

"A place that has small businesses such as barber shops, salons, money transfer agents and cafés also make a perfect spot for our service."

As such, Ongata Rongai, Kiambu, Mlolongo, Wangige and Kitengela are among the places where over 100 hotspots have been opened.

The service, which is ad-supported, has also seen internet users in these places buy data at much more affordable prices and provide them with more options. Prices start at Sh10 for a 40 MB and Sh20 for 100 MB for daily bundles. Other prices include weekly plans of Sh50 for 300 megabytes going up to Sh500 for 3GB.

"How does a person pay to access the Wi-Fi?" I ask Summer.

"In places where we've provided the service, we have a branded station where surfers can pay for the internet bundle of their choice."

With the service, Surf is entering a battlefield of data wars characterized by price drops and bundle packages growing every year in a bid to capture the market.

But this does not worry Summer.

A product of Silicon Valley, Summer is aware of how such competition works and says he is confident that their niche product will gain traction.

"There really is enough pie for everyone, so I do not consider our offering as competition. Our main interest is the job at hand as we have no plans of exploring voice calls and other services offered by players in this market. Additionally, our product is aimed at growing the sector, rather than engaging in competition."

The company's strategy is bound to work, Summer adds.

Their strong partnerships, which include one with Internet Solutions, enables them access the network infrastructure and knowledge on the business aspect in Kenya.

"Apart from their technical muscle, Facebook also has a big initiative that aims at getting more and more people getting onto the internet, something that will help our collaboration," adds Summer.

Summer also says their 'unbeatable' speed, will be the stuff to reckon with; "we will be increasing our connectivity capacity depending on how many people are available at a spot. This is unlike other models that do not increase connectivity capacity when the number of people connected rise."

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