"What is the Wi-Fi password?"

That is a common question in many public places in Kenya, and a subject of many jokes and memes.

While Internet penetration is the highest it has ever been in Kenya, there is still a long way to go towards achieving universal Internet access, and in this case, one that works. The primary method of connecting to the Internet used by the majority of Kenyans is through their mobile phones, which has many limitations. This is why every person is quick to ask for the Wi-Fi password whenever they are in any public place with Wi-Fi access, perhaps to get some freedom from the prison of metered mobile Internet.

Source: World Bank

Mobile Internet coverage in Kenya

I use the mobile Internet almost every day because the optical fiber connection I have is only useful in my office, where I am plugged in. Whenever I am out of the office, I have to rely on a 3G or 4G connection to remain connected.

This is what the majority of Kenyans use, and in some places, people still depend on 2G.

The problem with this is that network reception varies from place to place. This means that your primary network may work in location A, but fail in location B, whereas another network works in B and not in A. The solution to this is to have multiple SIM cards.

At the moment, I have to pack multiple SIM cards when I am going to a new place because I am not sure which mobile service provider will be reliable. I may also need to download Google Maps in advance so that I can use the maps offline.
In my rural home, I need to be in a specific location to have a 3G reception which works just like 2G.

The cost of mobile Internet in Kenya

Mobile Internet in Kenya is expensive, especially if it works.

One has to be cost-conscious while using it, which involves disabling mobile data whenever one is not actively using the internet. The connection is usually metered.

Using the internet while watching my data feels like something straight from 1992. One has to avoid accessing platforms like YouTube and also keep checking if there is a major software update taking place. Unfortunately, there are not many ways of having unlimited access to the Internet on a mobile phone without having throttled speeds or spending a fortune. This is the limiting factor in a country where over 99 percent of Internet subscribers access the Internet via mobile phones and other mobile devices.

What are the solutions?

The problem of metered mobile Internet is that it is the current day DVD in the age of Netflix or even CD in the age of Spotify. A form of disruption that would bring abundance in this area is needed, just the way Spotify and Netflix have brought forth unlimited content.

The problem of coverage will take long to solve but should be within reach. Unfortunately, the initial cost of setting up the infrastructure is the one that keeps costs high as operators try to recover their costs. This is why sparsely populated rural areas usually lack a 4G signal because it does not make business sense.

Is there hope that one day we will ever have cheap and available mobile Internet?

I think the mobile Internet needs to be available just like electricity and water. In most places, one can have the two in unlimited amounts, and at an affordable cost.

A few years ago, the cost of calling was very high, it has come down significantly. Maybe data connectivity will also follow suit. 5G promises to partly solve this, but in the end, it might as well depend on the benevolence of the mobile network operators.

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