The number of short text messages (SMSs) sent by mobile subscribers in Kenya jumped by 1.62 billion in the quarter to March this year compared to a similar period in 2019, firming a trend in which many subscribers preferred to talk less on their phones.
The number of SMSs sent in the third quarter to March increased by 9.5 percent to 16.82 billion from 15.36 billion over a similar period of last year, new data by the Communications Authority of Kenya(CA) shows.
This marked a third-quarter growth in the SMS segment for a fifth straight year even as slumps were registered in voice traffic volumes and data subscriptions.
“The number of short messages sent per subscription per month increased to 101.5 during the third quarter, from 95.4 messages sent last quarter,” the regulator said.
The number of SMSs sent in the third quarter of this year marks a 157 percent jump over a similar period in 2016 compared to a 50 percent and 57 percent growth for voice and data respectively.
SMSs are more appealing to Kenyans seeking to cut costs amid turbulent economic times. Businesses and State ministries and agencies have also turned to SMS to reach out to their audiences, resulting in revenue growth for telcos. SMSs, unlike calls and applications like WhatsApp, are an affordable and a convenient way of reaching out to people in remote regions, making the service more appealing for communication. The CA data shows that SMS remains the only service that has posted growth quarter on quarter from March 2016, as telcos saw their talk-time and mobile data subscriptions take a dip.
Besides businesses and State agencies, global tech giants like Google, Facebook, Uber, Apple and Airbnb have also turned to SMSs to market their products. Globally, SMS traffic was projected to hit 2.5 trillion by mid-2020.
But even as the SMS segment posted growth, telcos recorded a total of 15.31 billion minutes of talk-time in the three months to March-- reflecting a seven percent drop from 16.40 billion minutes in the corresponding period last year. The quarter three voice traffic performance breaks a trend in which telcos have reported increases in talk-time since a similar window in 2016.
CA’s data further shows that mobile subscriptions also dropped 16 percent to 38.85 million in the three months to March from 46.46 million posted in a similar period last year as the cheaper SMS service became the preferred means of communication for individuals and businesses. And even with the less talk, Kenyans are calling more within the Airtel network than Safaricom and Telkom Kenya with the CA attributing it to the cheaper call rates.
Airtel subscribers spoke for an average of four minutes within the network followed by those on Telkom Kenya who averaged 1.8 minutes while Safaricom subscribers spoke the least within the network at an average of 1.3 minutes, the data shows.
The increased talk-time within Airtel network saw the telcos eat into Safaricom’s share of the voice market as the two bank on promotional call tariffs to draw customers. Airtel’s share of voice market grew to 30.9 percent in the three months to March from 29.2 percent in a similar period to last December while that of Safaricom shrank to 65.7 percent from 67.1 percent in the period ended December.
“Safaricom PLC recorded the lowest duration of calls for both on-net and off-net calls due to the high calling rates charged by the operator both within and across networks,” CA said.
Safaricom, however, recorded the highest number of mobile in-ports at 208, whereas Airtel Networks Limited and Telkom Kenya Limited recorded 41 and 16 in-ports respectively.
The total local outgoing mobile voice traffic increased by 2.3 percent during the third quarter to post 15.3 billion minutes from 14.9 billion minutes posted in the last quarter. “On-net traffic stood at 13.5 billion up from 13.2 billion minutes recorded last quarter. Similarly, off net and mobile to fixed traffic increased by 1.4 and 7.6 percent to post 1.7 billion and 15.8 million minutes respectively. The Minutes of Use per Subscription per Month increased to 92.5 from 91.5 minutes registered in the previous quarter,” CA said.