Search This Blog

Tuesday, March 30, 2010


Safaricom's CEO Michael Joseph is notoriously impatient with inefficiencies.

Being main sponsor of this year's connected government conference in Diani at the Coast, Joseph took to podium and rattled a few issues that have apparently been on his mind.

1. Kenyan engineers like most technical support people are doing a crappy job of meeting client's expectations. If a gadget blows for example, the technician goes and gets another and if it blows again he gets another. If the third doesn't blow then he says. works!

Basically, Joseph put it across that the level of standards in service provision in technical areas needed to be raised. To this end, Safaricom has partnered with Huawei Technologies to establish a finishing school of sorts for trained engineers where additional skill sets will be imparted.

The school will be hosted at Moi University.

Huawei will provide support while Safaricom through its HR department will provide the resource persons.

2. Joseph spoke about rolling out 4G later this year in Kenya. 4G or Long Term Evolution is seen as the successor to 3G technology and has already been tested in such areas as Stockholm, Sweden. LTE is gaining momentum as the next generation technology beating out WiMax.

To Joseph, nowhere in the world do we need 4G like in Kenya. Joseph had said last year that Huawei was testing 4G for Safaricom but had given no timeline.

Industry regulator CCK had at that time no idea what 4G was so it will be interesting what the event timeline on this including CCK's licensing and fee charged will be.

3. Net books...Safaricom is apparently searching for vendors of cheap but quality netbooks in the region of about US$200 (Sh15,000). This he feels will finally allow the push of internet into the lower echelon households which currently cannot afford the laptops in the market.

Joseph said he had spoken with numerous vendors and currently the main barrier was the licenses for the software that the netbooks would run. Licensing typically adds to the cost of a device.

The connected government conference continues. Will update more as discussions and presentations continue.

Monday, March 29, 2010


Do you know what a US military or NSA intelligence guy would love? To be able to monitor real time conversations held anywhere in the world and particularly these days on the net. Only you need to know hundreds if not thousands of languages to do that.

Not for long it might seem. Google Translate presents in my opinion one of the giant leap for such snoopers and an inconsequential nitwit ranting in vernacular on the web may well find himself hauled in for questioning.

Consider this.

Google's Motto is "See no evil." It's mission: To organize the world's information. It's working environment? Employees spend 80 per cent of their time working on company stuff and 20 per cent working on their own innovative stuff which if brilliant or innovative enough can make it through the vetting teams of top engineers and become the next cool thing from Google.

The company is admired though suffice to say its above reproach image took a battering when it pandered to the whims of the Chinese Communist government and allowed its content to be censored on the mainland so that offending images such as the 1989 Tiananmen Riots during which thousands of demonstrating students are thought to have been massacred could be blocked from innocent civilians eyes.

Anyway, recently, a Google dude was in town. His mission? To meet with scribes and show them cool things you can do with Google's applications such as search (Did you know you can multiply numbers and do other mathematical calculations on the Google Search bar?) as well as convert currency on it? Such is the definition of cool.

Some time back at the Mobile World Congress CEO Eric Schmidt trotted a German techie who works for Google to demonstrate image and voice search along with translate technology.

Basically you can take a string of words from one language enter them into Google Translate and they come out in the language you wish them to. Useful for interpreting a Chinese menu perhaps.

Anyway, this Lan fellow for that is his name demonstrated both Google Translate and Google Books.

Curiously, he let slip that Google is very interested in local language books such as those written in Luhya and Luo as well as Kikuyu and Kamba and so on.

Why? Apparently its all part of the effort to organize the world information.

True it would put our literature out there but Mr. Lan did not mention that it is also a very useful way of helping out Google's Translate application.

For you see unlike other translation programs, Google Translate relies on thousands and thousands of scanned texts which it cross references to make sense of things in different languages.

It works best when it has bi-lingual texts to compare.

So when Google says it is interested in scanning Luhya or Kikuyu texts it is not just to archive such literature but also to help its translation program.

From there you can see that anything typed in Facebook or blogged online in any language can be quickly translated. US Military intelligence guys must be following the project keenly.

It is going to take sometime although with Kiswahili Google has done quite a lot and in Uganda it has been working with Literature scholars and other Academicians to translate some of the dialects.

Of course if they spent enough time on the ground they would also realize that you can simply stand at a religious rally in Kenya especially the pentecostals and evangelicals and tape the preacher plus his translator. Outsource the transcription work to Kencall and you can grow your bilingual texts by multiples every Sunday!

Sunday, March 28, 2010


Trust Dorothy Ooko to come up with a way to leverage Nokia's products with the media. THe Nokia Communications Manager, East and Southern Africa last week held what she said would be a monthly Ovi cocktail.

Now scribes will show up at the mere promise of booze but last Wednesday's event held at Blanco's restaurant had a different spin to it.

For starters, there were phones to be won and not just any phone but smartphones. On the winners menu was the Nokia X6, the Nokia E72 and the Nokia E52.

All one had to do was to make a pitch about any Nokia Ovi application to the judging panel consisting of Agatha Gikunda, Nokia's regional head of solutions and a Nokia intern whose name slips my mind.

This of course means that the scribes had to actually explore the Ovi Store and try different applications and in the process learn more about them than a Nokia workshop could teach.

This being the first such Ovi cocktail, attendance though decent was not overwhelming but also participants knowledge of the apps that run on Nokia's Ovi store was quite limited.

The Standard's James Ratemo who also is President, Kenya ICT Reporters Association (KIRA) jazzed the audience with his pitch of F-Secure which he said he used when he forgot his handset in his house on his way to work. Recalling that his girlfriend was in the house he got on to F-
Secure and shut down his phone from another handset. Don't ask me what he was hiding from her. For his pitch Ratemo went home with the Nokia X3.

The Star's James Mbugua another KIRA member took second prize and opted for a Nokia E72 for his pitch of foursquare while a lady named Maureen who spoke about watching CNN on her phone took home the E52.

There were Bluetooth earpieces for all other attendants who braved rain and traffic to make it to Blanco's to attend the cocktail.

All in all it was a great event but more importantly, it got scribes to seriously start exploring Ovi Apps.

I'm sure by the next event, we will have Ovi Apps gurus in the house.


you live on King'ara road just next to the Gitanga road and James Gichuru intersection, you might be among the first people to experience true fiber optic to the home speeds courtesy of AccessKenya. The firm which recently launched its metro fiber network mostly relies on WiMax radios to transmit to homes but that may all change.

The company will attempt to use a technology called GPON (Gigabit Passive Optical Network) basically where you derive a line from one point on the fiber optic network to serve multiple points such as different apartments in an apartment block. Access will also try out IPTV and will make a decision in three months time.

The recent developments make Access a must buy for the coming few years. AccessKenya's profits dipped this past year perhaps explaining the tepid performance by its stock on the NSE even as other stocks rocket from last year's lows.

But of the shares showing promise on the bourse, it is Access that I would recommend anyone to buy now. At Sh20 it is not only cheap but following the launch of its metro-fiber network two weeks ago, this is a company that is poised for incredible growth.

Now, Jonathan Stichbury the CEO of AIG Investments EA, privately feels Access will sell itself to Safaricom in two years time but the times I have spoken to Jonathan Somen, (above R) Access CEO, he has outrightly denied that he would be looking to sell.

AccessKenya's most low profile investment of the last few years may yet turn out to be its best. Those guys in yellow coveralls that had become ubiquitous along Nairobi roads digging trenches were actually laying out a simple strategy: to connect four parts of Nairobi with underground cable and then use the resultant ring to launch into buildings and homes across Nairobi.

At each of those four locations is a sort of hub or node. Four nodes anchor the network. There is a node at Barclay's Plaza, CBD, one at Rahimtulla Towers, Upper Hill, Bandari Plaza, Westlands and Yaya Towers, Yaya.

Simply put, AccessKenya is the best placed company to dominate the data market in the coming years especially with the launch of its metro fiber.

Its goal is to first of all pipe 250 buildings within Nairobi from where tenants can tap into its capacity. It envisages about 100Mg per building. (I use Mg here to mean the size of the pipe that will be dedicated to each building as opposed to the speed at which data flows in it).

BY using its relative advantage in the data market (Jonathan Somen's favourite refrain is: "We know DATA!") the company will seek to beat back a strong push by the other listed ISP in Kenya, that venerable green giant, Safaricom which has been seeking to extend its voice dominance to the data market.

Unfortunately for Safaricom which has a legacy of voice technology infrastructure, clients have been less than impressed. Its millions of users have been straining its network and dropped connections are common. Last month, I&M attempted to demo its new Visa International partner status by taking scribes through a transaction. Four attempts to go online via Safaricom's modem failed and we had to settle for a powerpoint demo.

Access is also experimenting with fiber to the home and other technology that can rope in residential clients.

AIG Stichbury feels as an investor you can always bet on good management and certainly Access has that.

Jonathan Somen is an astute businessman and takes no prisoners as witnessed last year when he fell out with Henry Njoroge the head of OpenView, a subsidiary of AccessKenya.

Somen felt the OpenView, where he had not only bought 70 per cent shareholding from Njoroge, but also retained him as MD, was not pulling its weight. Testy board meetings were held back in February 2009 where Jonathan pushed to buy the remaining 30 per cent of the business from Njoroge.

By August Njoroge and a few other managers were out and the business has been renamed Access IT. Somen blamed it for the hit in profitability his firm took but he also pointed to the heavy capital expenditure his firm laid out in the metrofiber network.

Now it remains to be seen how Access goes after the data market.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010


Nokia set up a research center in Kenya two years ago as part of its 11 world research centers. Nokia Research Africa held its first progress update yesterday to talk about its work in Africa so far.

Of course due to competition they could not talk about what precisely they were doing but NRC Africa team leader did say that typically, 10 per cent of its research findings in Western research centers ends up being incorporated in their phones.

One interesting thing did emerge though. Nokia has been trying to set up a Kenyan online music store where Kenyans can download local music without much success so far because of too many hands in the pot.

Essentially, there are too many people with whom it needs to sign licenses with unlike in some Western countries where it merely needs to sign a deal with one record label and the artists under that label with have their music available on its Comes With Music online store.

Dorothy Ooko the Nokia Communications Manager for East & Central Africa said only one artist, Eric Wainaina was a one-stop shop with whom they could sign with. All other jokers had like a retinue of 5-people with whom the company had to sign contracts with, a tedious process to say the least.

But Jussi Impio, Nokia Research Center Africa team leader, did hint that we could have an online music store here in the next two years.

And get this: NOT ONE of these so-called celebs makes any money from the records they do. Piracy and other associated costs coupled with forgettable actual sales ensures that nothing remains to talk about.

Their money comes from Gigs at concerts and clubs. The only reason many of them are doing records at all is for promotion purposes. So it beats reason why they should make it so hard to sign with an online music store unless someone in these so-called record labels is fleecing them and doesnt want to lose the gravy train when artists move online.

Actually this is a long overdue move. For Nokia which has moved into solutions in a big way with its Online Shop Ovi Store, Ovi Maps, and Comes With Music store, Kenya would have been a quick adopter if it could come up with a deal that artists can sign to.

This is because Kenya has prolific users of internet both on PC and on mobile phones and two, the transactional ability using mobile money is deeply entrenched to pay for online downloads.

Comes With Music could work in Kenya by following the Ovi Store model. On Ovi, developers of mobile phone applications upload their apps onto Ovi which then distributes it to thousands of mobile phone users. The developer gets 70 per cent of revenue while Nokia keeps 30 per cent.

If Kenyan artists were to upload their music on Comes With Music and have users download it, they could similarly be paid for songs sold which potentially could be paid for with M-PESA.

In recent years local and regional music has taken Kenya by storm and gradually reduced the influence of Western Music. Kenyans could for example appreciate a local portal where they could download unique Congolose, Cameroonian or Mozambiqan music.

For up and coming artists who do not have record deals with local outfits, Comes With Music could offer a quick and effective way to put their music out there and combined with other social media such as Facebook, marketing themselves would be a much cheaper exercise.

So really, the Kenyan music industry needs to rethink its stand and make the process of signing with online music stores much easier.


Finally, the third submarine cable to call at the Port of Mombasa, is here albeit 4 years late. Those in the know will remember this was the first cable that was meant to connect the Eastern Africa seaboard but boardroom wrangles and ulterior moves by South Africans who wanted to control the cable set it back.

In fact, Kenya's own cable TEAMS was conceived when during a meeting of countries in SA to discuss the cable, Information PS Bitange Ndemo stood up and issued an ultimatum from the Kenyan government.

"If the next meeting does not resolve when we start laying this cable, Kenya will go on its own," the then new PS told a stunned but disbelieving audience. The rest as they say is history.

This weekend, the East frica Submarine System (EASSY) a project spearheaded by the Western Indian Ocean Cable Company (WIOCC) will land in Mombasa.

The WIOCC guys have promised that internet costs will drastically come down. But more interestingly, is the cost of calling between African countries which is still higher than the rates at which we call the UK and US.

EASSY has a unique model that brings together African landline operators who will serve as the cable's backhaul and provide redundancy.

Basically by ensuring these African operators are all interconnected, it will cut off Europe as an exchange point for phone calls originating from Africa and destined for other African countries.

Currently to call another African country for example requires routing of traffic to Europe and then back to Africa.

EASSY will now join TEAMS (Kenyan owned) and SEACOM (Aga Khan Fund, Cyril Ramaphosa and American investors) and will provide diversity.

WIOCC CEO Chris Wood and GM James Wekesa have said this is the first fully connected cable because it goes straight to Europe whereas TEAMS connects to Fujairah in Dubai for onward connectivity and SEACOM connects through Mumbai from where it can connect to I-ME-WE (India Middle East and Western Europ) cable.

THe other unique feature of this cable is that it will allow for monthly contracts and sell bandwidth at lower quantities than the other two.

It will be interesting to see how Kenyan telecoms who have stubbornly refused to bring down bandwidth costs (some say its because they had entered into expensive Satellite Bandwidth contracts which they want to first pay off) will react.

Wananchi Group which has spoken of doing 1000KM of terrestrial fiber optic cable looks to be the wildcard here. For, although the Ministry of Information has threatened to crack down on price collusion amongst operators, it is only the market per se which can bring prices down. Wananchi can for example decide it doesnt have the number of clients Safaricom or Orange have and opt to slash prices precipitously to gain clientele.

If this happens, others are bound to follow.

Countries covered by EASSY:
  • Botswana
  • Burundi
  • Ethiopia
  • Lesotho
  • Malawi
  • Rwanda
  • Swaziland
  • Uganda
  • Zambia
  • Zimbabwe

Friday, March 5, 2010


Kenyans are a chattering lot. On the web that is. Data from a research commissioned from Telposta towers (that is where the Kenya ICT Board and the Ministry of Information) shows that majority of Kenyans go online to gab.

It is not alas, and to the chagrin of marketers to check out products to shop online for.

89 per cent of respondents surveyed said they mostly go online to chat while another huge chunk said it was mostly to Facebook. Most would like to surf on their mobile phone but are restricted by small screens and pages that are not formatted for the mobile web.

Kenya ICT Board (CEO Paul Kukubo pictured) commissioned TNS International to research internet usage by Kenyans within the borders with a view to creating a useful baseline report that firms and marketers can use to position themselves more appropriately on the net.

In a nutshell, companies need to know a couple of things about the potential Kenyan internet customer.

ONE: Facebook is the most popular destination for Kenyans with 90 per cent dropping in on the popular social networking site.

Hi5 (38%), Twitter (37%), LinkedIn (30%) and Youtube (30%) follow in that order. Tagged (23%) is it even used here?, Yahoo360 (20%), MySpace (20%) and others trail.

SECOND: While most Kenyans do not buy online (mostly because of the cost of delivery and the lpoor of credit card penetration), they do research products online. Apparently, while 78 per cent of users have researched a product online such as a mobile phone, only 51 per cent subsequently went to buy it and this they did directly from a shop and not an online store.

However, 88 per cent said they would be willing to pay for such goods using mobile money services like M-PESA and ZAP.

And they don't like what they are seeing of Kenyan websites - too little information is available and the most important, cost, as Kenyans are price conscious, is usually lacking.

ADVICE TO FIRMS: Have an internet presence, make sure your site shows up quite high on the search engine results and have the information people need.

THIRD: and confirming a suspicion I've long held that Kenyan college students do too much copy pasting from the net, the TNS report shows that knowledge led surfing rules the Kenyan networld.

Wikipedia ( I admit I use it often) ranks high on usage and again this confirms a feeling I've had that there is too little unique Kenyan information being generated by Kenyans. While researches and oral literature reviews of Western writing abounds on the net, you'd be hard pressed to find any meaningful takes on Kenyan books online.

FOURTH: Kenyans prefer to do their surfing on their mobile phones than in cybercafes ( I think I should do a cost comparison for this) .

FIFTH: 92 per cent have seen online ads and 45 per cent admitted to being influenced by them. However, 44 per cent said they trusted product reviews made by people who used the same product.

Some companies are doing something about their net presence.

Nation Media Group whose website is among the top visited Kenyan sites has an active Facebook group which draws on average 30 comments per each posted story. No word yet on how to monetize on FB but clearly it does no harm for DN's brand endurance.

"Internet is dominated by knowledge seeking behavior," Melissa Baker (pictured) who ran the research said when she presented the findings at Hotel Intercontinental.

Interest clearly was high. I came across some guys from Barclay's, Segeni Ng'ethe the guy who started Mama Mikes Online and now has a venture called Hapa TV was also present along with marketers from different firms.

Segeni would have been glad to learn that 66 per cent of Kenyan internet users link with their families outside Kenya. Those who may remember Segeni made his bones right after he left Georgetown University and started Mama Mikes a service that used to link with Nakumatt and Uchumi to get guys in the US to purchase Supermarket vouchers for their families back home.

Mama Mikes would deliver the vouchers to the address given by the sender.

But for guys selling products on the internet, there is still a ways to go.

Thursday, March 4, 2010


The song may be getting old - yet another IT giant making a courtesy call in Nairobi - a city many believe is on its way to becoming a financial and IT hub for the region.

But Hewlett Packard the world's largest computer maker (remember they swallowed Compaq when Iron Lady Carly Fiorina ran the firm ) broke out some serious hardware when it launched its global roadshow dubbed Printonomics 2010 at the Safaripark Hotel this week. BTW this is the first time the roadshow is starting in Africa.

But before we get to the products you have to hear these guys talk about how gazillions of printouts are done across the world and why they see business only getting better.

By the end of this decade, a guys called Hassan who heads HP Africa explained animatedly, we will be printing 16 billion books a year, 3billion cards, 1 billion newspapers and 1.5 trillion packaging materials.

Hugging the entire wall of one of the presentation rooms was this massive grand piano looking HP Printer that apparently can even print on tiles. Presentations went on for too long we didnt get a chance to get a load of what it could do but from the looks of it, its industrial grade nothome or business.

I can see it being used for these big billboards that meet you at every major intersection in

Closer to consumers pockets was this rolling-pin sized mobile document scanner that can even do business cards - so I guess at company events instead of the bowl PR guys give us to drop in our business cards they can scan your card and return it to you and save the data electronically.

That baby comes to Kenya in May with a ex-factory price of 249 euros (Sh25,000).

For engineers and architects comes a non-networked printer that can take even A3 paper in its printer like tray and scan immediately and even in colour to your computer. It is the fastest scanner in the HP stable and has 5000 page duty cycle per day.

Another standout was this scanner that sports a keyboard along with a colour touchscreen menu for you to configure your scanning desires. It is also a sheet-fit model apparently people are moving away from the flat bed scanner that you open place a document on and close to scan.

Sheet-fit scanners can take a shuffle of documents and scan them one at a time to your computer or to email.

After scanning, the HP guy said, you can quickly send it as email using the fitted in keyboard.

Quite a few HP customers attended the extravaganza at Safari Park Hotel and were duly taken on a tour to see the range of products.

One thing however that came out of the show is a decisive entry by HP into the solutions business sort of like a utility company.

Instead of buying HP printers, the company is using a rent model where it comes in and assesses your printing and imaging needs, how much you spend on printing and possible wastage areas.

It then proposes a solution, the appropriate number of printers and brings in the equipment itself. You pay a monthly fee and buy your paper but all other things are handled by HP. It also allows you to issue your staff with PIN numbers to use for printing so that the habit of double clicking on the print button that leads to mountain of printouts left beside the printers is reduced.

And it can give you printing reports to see how staff are printing.

Strathmore is apparently on the system for its 2000 students and 300 staff. HP has put in six printers against the recommended 12 and is charging a minimum of Sh200,000 per month for the Managed Service.

I'm hoping HP will me the pics and spec sheets of all the new lines of products any time soon. Nairobitech will also pay a site visit to Strathmore University to see how this is being implemented.

Monday, March 1, 2010


Samsung is bursting at the seams to talk about Samsung IT. You see, in this region they have existed as a consumer electronics and mobile handsets vendors. But, to hear them speak, they are actually a big IT company involved in making of PCS, laptops and now printers which they are seeking to market in Kenya.

They have this laptop which even has fingerprint recognition as the password before it starts up.

Apparently they've given one to Michael Joseph of Safaricom to try it out no doubt hoping he likes what he sees and orders a few for his people or for his retail stores.

For its printers, I was skeptical. Epson and HP are all I've known and experienced in the field of printing.

But no, the Samsung guys said, actually most HP printers carry Samsung engines inside. Samsung and Canon ostensibly, make 80 per cent of the engines that run on printers worldwide and also most of the components that you see on comps such as laptop screens come from Samsung.