Safaricom to spend $125m on upgrade

Sunday January 02 2011

Among the parameters Safaricom failed to meet is the quality of speech through its network. Photo/REUTERS

Safaricom, Kenya’s leading mobile communications operator, will invest Ksh10 billion ($125 million) in sprucing up its network.

The move follows recent reports by the industry regulator, Communication Commission of Kenya, detailing sub-standard services by three of the four licensed operators in the country. Safaricom and Telkom Orange were ranked bottom.

Initially, Safaricom rejected the findings of the report, saying they did not represent the company’s true position.

But in a twist of events, Safaricom has abandoned the warpath and laid on the table a tidy sum of money to clean up cobwebs in its network.

That the amount is slightly less than half of its gross profits recorded last March, sends a positive message to its subscribers and the CCK.

Chief corporate affairs officer Claire Ruto told The EastAfrican that the company had acknowledged the need to improve its network quality with the intention of “delivering a superior communication experience to our customers.”


She said among the challenges the company was facing which had let the network down, was the fact that they have to operate on the same quantity of GSM 1800 spectrum in busy areas with other mobile phone operators, despite having a higher subscriber base, as well as rampant fibre cable disconnection through vandalism.

When CCK released the report last November, Safaricom protested at the method it had used to assess their products.

Ms Ruto said their internal tests, which are approved by the International Telecommunications Union, showed the company met six of the eight CCK parameters.

But CCK, which granted Safaricom three scores insisted the survey was a true representation of the situation and that it was conducted independently according to global best practices.

CCK chief executive officer, Charles Njoroge, warned the affected mobile phone companies that if they did not improve their services, they risked fines or having their licences revoked.

Airtel’s stand

Airtel, which was declared the best performer having met seven of the eight parameters unequivocally defended the findings saying they reflected the truth.

“We respect the role of CCK first as a regulator and second as an independent intermediary between all players. We have no reason to counter the scorecard especially since it is based on genuine feedback from customers,” said Rene Meza, the managing director of Airtel Kenya. “We believe the study was conducted professionally.”

He said the score was as a result of the company’s “single-minded focus on delivery of relevant and innovative mobile solutions to help our customers overcome their daily challenges.”

The CCK report analysed the services of the phone operators using eight parameters: Completed calls; Call setup success rates; Dropped calls; Blocked calls; Speech quality; Handover success rate; Call set up time, and Signal strength.

Among the parameters Safaricom failed to meet is that of the quality of speech through its network.

Essar Telkom, operating the Yu network, though second with four points, was still far from Airtel which passed with 87.5 per cent of the parameters.

Interestingly, all the four operators — Safaricom, Airtel, YU, and Orange — failed in the Completed calls category.  

This could raise concerns about the willingness of the companies to provide services which are commensurate with the charges on their consumers.