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Columnists

Growing internet access crucial to enterprise glory

Safaricom CEO Peter Ndegwa
Safaricom CEO Peter Ndegwa. PHOTO | COURTESY 

This week, I marked my 100th day as the CEO of Safaricom. Coming into office as the Covid-19 pandemic set into the country, I have had a front row seat helping to enable digital lifestyle in the country to manage this disease.

Throughout this period, I have led the organisation digitally. This has solidified my commitment to the two-pronged undertaking I made when I joined: democratising data and enabling micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs). This is important now, with the pandemic significantly accelerating us towards the digital age.

Democratising data implies facilitating its universal access. It requires continually working towards bridging the digital divide.

Whereas the Communications Authority of Kenya estimates mobile penetration at 116.1 percent by March; within our customer base, smartphone penetration is at 42 percent, while only 16.8 percent have 4G handsets.

For Kenyans to enjoy the digital dividends from opportunities residing in the digital world, we must build and maintain a strong 4G network across the country and put 4G-enabled devices in more hands.

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The success of digital transformation is dependent on a strong network. During the Covid-19 pandemic we have increased our 4G sites by over 637 sites. I am committed to ensuring 4G access across the country by the end of this financial year from the current 77 percent coverage.

Safaricom has the responsibility of ensuring network availability and stability. Our Fibre to Home connections have grown by an additional 28,000 new connections during this period.

Cost of devices should no longer be an impediment. We are soon launching an innovative device financing plan dubbed Lipa Mdogo Mdogo that will give customers still using feature phones an opportunity to own a 4G-enabled device by paying only Sh20 a day.

With growth of smartphone usage in Kenya, we are witnessing a marked difference in income generated by entrepreneurs with internet-enabled devices compared to those without. Boda-boda riders are taking advantage of online taxi or delivery services on mobile apps to boost their incomes.

‘Mama mbogas’ are also using 4G-enabled devices to send photos and videos of their produce, taking orders online and delivering. Thus, the enterprise of the future has to be digitally enabled.

Covid-19 has particularly exposed the inequalities that exist for businesses without access to the internet. This has been more evident for the 7.2 million MSMEs in Kenya, which are the engines that power economic growth and especially job creation.

Safaricom’s role in enabling MSMEs is inspired by the unique position we occupy in the economy. We interact with almost all SMEs given that they use the M-Pesa platform for money transfer services, payments and micro-financing services.

Safaricom has been prioritising support to SMEs during the Covid-19 pandemic and this will continue after recovery. We will continue to support these businesses to restart and grow using ICT services and supply chain financing in partnerships with others.

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