Race for Internet subscribers goes to small towns as firms boost capacity

Liquid Telcom chief executive Ben Roberts during an interview. The firm has set up free Wi-Fi hotspots in several towns.  PHOTO | DIANA NGILA
Liquid Telcom chief executive Ben Roberts during an interview. The firm has set up free Wi-Fi hotspots in several towns. PHOTO | DIANA NGILA 

Connectivity has become the core conversation in the digital age.

Kenya boasts of a data subscription of 26.8 million with users estimated to be 37.7 million which is estimated to be an 85.3 per cent penetration.

This has spurred the push by providers targeting towns beyond the capital as well as providing services to low-end households . They’ve also been upgrading the bandwidth available for end consumers.

The high-end neighbourhoods have long benefited from the presence of fibre and Wi-Fi, saturating the segment, leaving providers grappling with the search for new market and expanded products.

“The affluent neighbourhoods are more or less covered with fibre, but there is potential in the middle-income areas,” said Ben Roberts, Liquid Telcom’s chief executive.


AccessKenya, an Internet service provider, in partnership with a Silicon Valley start-up introduced a last mile Internet service dubbed Surf that is aimed at reaching household in Eastlands in areas including Buru Buru, Jericho, Pangani and Umoja.

AccessKenya is just one of the players that have been making investments in the segment. Liquid Telcom’s local unit has invested Sh2 billion in its fibre optic network.

Liquid has been setting up free Wi-Fi hotspots in Nairobi, Nakuru, Mombasa, Kisumu, Eldoret, Kajiado and Nyeri.
The firm recently won contracts to set up an e-payment system in Kwale County and has also provided wireless network in Kilifi.

In Nairobi, Liquid is offering a service similar to Surf dubbed Poa Internet which sells Wi-Fi in Kibera.

Kenya Power is set to pilot a viability test for its fibre optic cables for business next month targeting Nairobi, Kisumu, Nyeri, Meru, Mombasa, Nakuru and Eldoret.

With a targeted 120 households in town, the electricity provider is banking on a successful partnership with a service provider to roll out the pilot.

This comes following a 12- month pilot that has been ongoing with Safaricom signed in April 2016 to connect 12,000 homes to fibre.

The partnership saw Safaricom lease Kenya Power’s fibre network.  The state-owned utility firm earned Sh259.4 million in revenue in the year ended June 2015 from leasing out extra capacity on its fibre optic network and has been targeting to grow this to Sh1 billion this year.


The government has also been mulling over investing in the Djibouti-Africa Regional Express (DARE), a proposed undersea cable, which will provide Internet for the Horn of Africa region.

The cable will serve Kenya, Tanzania, Djibouti, Yemen and Somalia and will have a capacity of 20 terabytes. Slated for completion next year, the cable will act as a redundancy to the existing network of undersea cables and help meet the growing demand for Internet capacity locally.

In 2015, Liquid announced plans to build its own 10,000 kilometre undersea cable linking up Africa to the Middle East and Europe.

Telkom Kenya, which already has shareholding in three undersea cables landing in Mombasa, has also indicated plans for further investment.

The East African Marine Cable System (TEAMS) expanded its capacity in 2015 growing it from 120 Gigabytes per second (GbPs) to 720 GbPs.