The ring-side bell is currently ringing. The pugilists are in the ring, jogging on the spot. Muscles are rippling. Mouth-guards are been prepared and eyes are flashing menacingly as they size each other up.
It is now obvious that the ICT industry in Kenya is undergoing a major shakeup. The competitors are many and offer varied products for example leased line, ADSL, CDMA, internet and general IT services.
So who are they?
The hard-hitters are - Africaonline, UUNet, Swift Global, Telkom Kenya (of course!), Access Kenya, Safaricom, Celtel, Flashcom, Popote, Wananchi, Afsat, Form-Net, Symphony, Seven Seas and I-Connect.
The first punch was thrown by Transcentury some time late last year when they teamed up with Wananchi Online to jointly bid for African Lakes, the parent company of Africa Online. They however lost out to Telkom SA after a bitter bidding war.
The second punch is on its way and it’s from Access Kenya. This company is elbowing its way through the crowd to get at the telephony cake. Its initial public offer in the NSE, which began on the 19th of April, is meant to raise enough capital muscle to enable Access tough it out with the overgrown bullies of this neighbourhood (Safaricom and Celtel). I will be assessing Access Kenya’s future prospects in a future post.
The third punch comes from our previous cohabitants. Transcentury (together with a few other weighty ‘investors’) is to ‘amicably’ buy out Wananchi Online. Their target seems to be in the broadband Wi-Max internet network and Fixed Line Voice services for home and corporate users. This is not accidental considering the 3.5 billion National Fibre Optic project recently launched by the government. This project aims to link 124 districts and create a national grid.
There is going to be a vicious cat-fight and the arrival of even one of the three anticipated submarine cables will cause a frenzy. This in itself is not a bad thing. Consumers will benefit. However the institutional and regulatory framework needs to be developed so as to be at tandem with these rapid developments.
We need the recently proposed ICT Authority up and running post-haste. As an example, with the whole process of market opening and unbridled competition, the interconnection of disparate networks will become an important issue. This interconnection requires fairness, transparency and consumer prioritization if price and quality are to benefit Kenyans. In other words we need a referee. CCK is not upto the task, what with its well documented SNO bungling.
The ICT authority would be responsible for investigation of consumer complaints against operators, disputed bills of services, resolving technical encroachment and many other problems. We are currently about to proceed into a slug-fest without any referee - such fights usually turn messy and someone’s ear is bound to get bitten off.
NB: I would like to congratulate Mr. Alex Gakuru on the recent launching of the Kenya ICT Consumer Association. As the pioneer chairman, I would beseech Mr. Gakuru to get busy as soon as possible. I was looking for their website but I haven’t found one yet. Consumers have rights that need protection. This body will safeguard their interests because many nasty things are bound to happen to them out there in that vicious digital jungle. All the best Gakuru!!