Rural Kenya not enjoying phone boom

Saturday February 16 2013

By Xinhua

The majority of people in rural Kenya have been left behind by the flourishing mobile phone industry, which has enhanced faster transaction of business through mobile money and communication, new data shows.

The East African nation has 30.4 million subscribers and runs the most successful mobile money transfer system.

However, the rural folk cannot easily access mobile money transfer services, quality calling services due to poor network coverage and Internet usage.

To make calls, some of them still have to climb trees or walk for a distance to a higher ground where there is guaranteed network coverage.

And to many, Internet is still a strange concept despite close to 14 million people, according to Communication Commission of Kenya (CCK), having access to the service, the majority through mobile phones.

Similarly, people in rural Kenya have to walk for several kilometres to market centres to access mobile money agents when they want to send, receive or withdraw cash.

At the market centres, they find services of only one mobile money service provider despite the nation having five, which are M-Pesa (Safaricom), Yu Cash (Yu), Orange Money (Orange), Airtel Money (Airtel) and Tangaza.

This means rural Kenyans have no choice when it comes to using mobile money services due to lack of competition. Accessing the mobile phone network is also a challenge.

For those living in border districts, their mobile phones keep connecting to the neighbouring countries’ network. This means they are sometimes charged for roaming services. They also have multiple SIM cards, which they interchange to find out which network is available.

A CCK report on mobile phone quality of service released in December 2012 noted that most people in rural areas suffer poor network coverage.

They have to put up with blocked and dropped calls and poor voice quality. Most of the time, dropped calls happen when one moves out of range of a wireless network.

“Nairobi is the only region where the level of dropped calls for all the operators is less than the target mark of 2 per cent of all calls,” said CCK.