A Crazy Idea That Just Might Help Airtel Kenya Grow

This won’t be my first time writing about Airtel Kenya. A friend once suggested I hate the network provider when I angrily published something on Storify after a series of disappointments when I tried to get help with an issue related to their data service. Well, I'm still on Airtel, and their service hasn't been stellar, but I have a couple of suggestions that could help them get their act together,

I want to make a guess that quite a number of Kenyans have an extra SIM card from Airtel. One we rarely or never use.

Until they, without notice, adjusted their Unliminet packages, I used Airtel as my dedicated internet provider.

In school, I endured extremely slow speeds and often DM’d ^Jamo and ^Caro, their Twitter Customer Service agents, who often said they would escalate the issue to the relevant team. Other times they would tell me my line has been refreshed, and I should restart the phone. The speeds were torturous. Sometimes the network would be fast. Then it would just disappear thereafter. And your bundles would mercilessly expire without you exhausting them.

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At home, to enjoy 3G I needed to have the phone by the window in a specific room. I create a hotspot so as to enjoy internet on other devices. The speeds were mostly okay. There would be outages sometimes, but they never lasted as long as they did in school. Despite all this, Unliminet is a very good deal, so I endured.

One day, whoever advises Airtel Kenya did their job and they revised the service one day without notice or consultation.

Anyway, I believe Airtel needs to grow. It is us the customers who stand to benefit. Remember it is Airtel we must thank for cheaper calling rates and for cheaper internet bundles. They properly disrupted the market.

I was reading this Bloomberg post on how Netflix is taking over the world. And I thought maybe Airtel would want to listen to this.

ShowMax recently collaborated with Safaricom when they entered the market. So Safaricom’s Lipa Na M-Pesa helps customers easily subscribe as Card payment can be a burden. Mobile money to the rescue!

But let’s be real here, I doubt Airtel can’t do something like that. Airtel Money hasn’t been a big success. I wrote a post on this some time back. To date, I still can’t find an Airtel money agent in Maseno. Buying airtime is a real struggle. The shops around don’t have Airtel scratch cards. One shop owner told me the Western Kenya distributor quit.

People in my age group use their phones differently. I don’t want to use the term millennials. SMS is dead. Phone calls are for emergencies. People chat. People video or VoIP call. We live on the internet. Meaning, we demand one thing majorly from a mobile provider: Cheap internet access. And that’s why Unliminet was really promising.

Cheap internet access is one thing. And then there’s speed. I will pay more for faster speeds. And Safaricom knows that. That’s why their 4G covers universities. They know their target market, and they're willing to invest in dedicated infrastructure because they know they will get returns.

Another thing about my generation is that we love entertainment on demand. Local TV is boring. That’s why Netflix, ShowMax and Amazon are competing for our attention. We can watch a whole 3 months worth of episodes from one TV show in one night.

Airtel plans to roll out their 4G network soon. Whenever that may be, if they can find and sign a deal with someone, anyone, for instance Netflix or Amazon, for subsidised internet bundle costs for access to the service, they can attract a large crowd.

When Netflix was starting out in Brazil they realised that the internet was key in attracting viewers. So, they partnered with telecoms that were in the process of expanding their network. ShowMax is doing this. They are even partnering with SEACOM to host their caching servers in Nairobi.

What if, and this is crazy, Airtel starts their 4G roll out with a partnership that allows me to easily pay for Netflix. But not just that, they also introduce a cheaper internet bundle just for Netflix. Wouldn’t that be good? Wouldn’t that attract more Airtel customers? It is wild, maybe impossible. But how do we make Airtel grow?

In 2010, my family moved to a remote area and were forced to switch and rely on Zain (which became Airtel later that year). Airtel was the only network but 3G wasn’t accessible indoors. To access Safaricom you had to walk a distance from the house. Today, 7 years later, Safaricom 4G is accessible even indoors. Airtel 3G is still a window gamble.

Safaricom is a juggernaut, with close to 70% market share. However, everyone has a weak spot, and Moses Kemibaro believes they can be disrupted in 6 simple ways, two of which include game-changing bundles and unlimited use Wi-Fi Networks.

Airtel is halfway there with Unliminet, but they are clearly in need of a proper shift in strategy.

In order to compete, Airtel will need an attractive value proposition. Slap on a service that people can really buy into, put some money in infrastructure - they did get funding to invest in masts, and we're still hoping that 4G becomes a reality - and go beyond 'escalating' issues and actually fix the underlying problems, and maybe, just maybe, Kenya's second-largest operator by subscriber numbers will be able to compete with the best of them.

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