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Unique mobile phone subscriptions rise to 33.5 million

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A subscriber holds a Telkom SIM card. FILE PHOTO | NMG

The number of mobile subscribers in Kenya rose to 33.5 million last year, representing an uptake of 61 percent.

Total mobile customers had grown by about 610,000 from 32.94 million in 2020 when the penetration rate also stood at 61 percent of the total population.

The statistic, which weeds out the impact of multiple SIM card ownership in assessing mobile penetration, has been published by Airtel Africa, which operates in Kenya and other regional markets.

Kenya’s unique mobile penetration at 61 percent is the highest in the region, ahead of Zambia (58 percent), Tanzania (54 percent), Nigeria (47 percent), Uganda (43 percent) and the Democratic Republic of Congo (43 percent).

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The Communications Authority of Kenya (CA) counts multiple SIM cards in a process that saw it place the country’s mobile uptake at more than 100 percent in the quarter ended December 2021.

The CA data shows the penetration levels of feature phones and smartphones stood at 67.9 percent and 54.5 percent respectively.

Airtel says its report on unique mobile penetration, defined as the number of mobile phone owners as a percentage of the total population, is derived from market analysts.

The finding shows the extent of multiple SIM card ownership, which has been attributed to subscribers seeking to benefit from lower prices by rival telcos.

Research firm GeoPoll notes that it is common for individuals to own multiple SIM cards in sub-Saharan Africa, switching between them to take advantage of a particular network’s deals or to maintain service when one network goes down.

“The number of active mobile subscriptions was 65.08 million, as at December 31, 2021,” CA said in its report for the quarter ended December 2021.

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At the same time, if an individual does not own a phone, they may have access to someone else’s. Airtel, for instance, found that there were 55 million SIM cards in the year ended December 2021, exceeding the country’s population of 49 million people in the same period.

Safaricom, Airtel and Telkom Kenya have many different permanent and temporary offerings across voice, data, mobile money and messaging services, with consumers buying multiple SIM cards from the rivals for use when it suits them.

Some subscribers use one SIM card predominantly but may maintain an older line to enable their contacts to reach them. This problem was meant to be solved by mobile number portability but the service allowing customers to migrate to another telco without changing the number has had a dismal uptake.

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