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Friday, May 9, 2014


When the deputy President William Ruto at a press conference the other day asked the Kenyan judicial courts to be responsible partners in the fight against terrorism, he might as well have been talking about the digital migration issue.
Few other issues demonstrate how sometimes our courts are divorcing themselves from the world in which they live in to deliver judgments than the digital migration issue.
From an initial deadline of June 2013 for Kenya to migrate to the digital TV platform, here we are in May 2014, a whole year later, and we still haven't migrated.
Reason; lawsuits, both frivolous and substantial have held up the process with no end in sight.
Meantime, the International Telecommunications Union imposed deadline for the entire globe to migrate to digital TV broadcasting by 2015 looms large.
At this rate, chaos beckons if Kenya does not get its act together and starts the migration with ample time to deal with glitches and problems that may arise.
On one hand you have the Consumer Federation of Kenya, an ambiguous self-appointed outfit, purporting to act on behalf of consumers whom it claims will be left out in the migration for inability to purchase the set-top boxes, on the other you have three prominent media houses demanding their own digital transmission license before they can allow their content to be broadcast digitally.
How rich?
Cofek's argument is easy to dispose of: First, the average cost of the set-top box that is in the market comes nowhere near the price of a TV set. For Cofek's argument to hold, the consumer they purport to protect must own a TV. The price of a TV is usually more than Sh8,000. The best-selling range of TVs, the 21-inch, retail for just over Sh10,000.
Is Cofek claiming that households can afford a TV but not a set-top box which goes for an average of Sh4,000.
Of course when it is presented as an issue of choice by agitators like Cofek, then many households may not have the discretionary spending to burn Sh4,000 on a device that Cofek portrays as an unnecessary punishment on citizens.
But the ITU deadline of digital migration of 2015 is real. When that happens what will the time-wasting Cofek say?
Kenyans in fact have already started to appreciate this reality. Ipsos, a research group in a recent study, shows that 99 per cent of Kenyans are aware of the impending digital migration.
Out of these 32 per cent have already purchased an STB (set-top box) with majority having bought theirs more than two months ago when migration was supposed to happen indicating clearly, that setting firm deadlines will motivate consumers to migrate.
Of the 68 per cent of Kenyans who have not bought an STB, Ipsos found that 62 per cent intend to purchase one, another 13 per cent will buy a digital TV with the digital receiver already integrated.
Only 23 per cent said they would not purchase an STB. Why then is Cofek seeking to block migration when majority clearly intend to migrate?
Kenyan courts must toss out frivolous lawsuits meant to delay inevitable happenings when they clearly are not based on facts but are driven by self-serving outfits executing the agendas of faceless industry players they dare not name.
In any case, besides government removing duty to make STBs more affordable to Kenyans some providers like GoTV have gone ahead to sign financing agreements for their boxes with the popular MPESA service MShwari allowing would-be consumers to pay for these boxes conveniently.
However, and this should tell us that many Kenyans have already seen the need to migrate, no sooner have Kenyans migrated than they find that three of the local news channels, Citizen, KTN and NTV are missing from their bouquet despite being assured by the industry regulator CAK that these would be available.
I asked Multichoice staff why they are denying Kenyans these channels and was told that in fact the question would be best addressed by the media houses themselves.
Apparently, it is they, after going to court to fight digital migration on the grounds that they deserved to also be given a transmission license, who decided to withdraw their content from GoTV.
In an April last month decision, the Supreme Court decided to issue orders barring digital signal transmitters and content aggregators from carrying content from these media houses without their consent.
"That Signet Kenya Limited, Startimes Kenya Ltd, Pan African Network Group Kenya Ltd and GoTV be, and are hereby prohibited from broadcasting any content from Royal Media Services Ltd, Nation Media Group Ltd, Standard Media Group Ltd without their consent pending the hearing and determination of the intended appeal," Supreme Court, April 11, 2014.
It turns out that on the strength of this order, the media houses withdrew the content.
"GoTV is willing and able to restore the channels immediately but requires the permission of the channel to do so," a GoTV spokesman said. "At this stage, permission has not been given."
This is another example of courts being misused to frustrate policy, innovation and development.
The truth of the matter is, media houses have h

Friday, March 21, 2014


Shivan Bhargava
Adil El Yousseffi
Airtel Kenya MD Shivan Bhargava has quit to be replaced by Adil El Yousseffi, Tigo Ghana boss.
Staff at the company were informed that Shivan would be looking to spend more time with his family presumably in India.
His departure marks the second high profile exit of an Indian executive at Park Side Towers, Mombasa Road following the return to India of Manoj Kohli, Bharti Airtel who was co-CEO and MD of the International business. Kohli relinquished these positions to become MD of Bharti Enterprises, the non-telecommunications part of Bharti. He is also the chairman of Bharti International which overseas Airtel Africa.
In both cases non-Indians are coming in to replace them perhaps reflecting a shift in the thinking of Company chair Sunnil Mittal. Manoj Kohli was replaced as MD for International by Christian de Faria.
Besides Kohli, former Anglophone Africa Airtel CEO Jayant Khosla also left as the company asked executives to take a cut in their hefty allowances.
Shivan rose to the corner office from the position of Chief Operating Oficer in September 2011 to replace Paraguayan Rene Meza who left for Vodacom Tanzania as CEO.
Airtel has been making a number of indigenous board and executive appointments across the African continent recently perhaps recognizing need for home grown experience to drive its strategy.
Some of these have been strategic such as the appointment of Alain Roger Coefe as board chairman of Airtel Burkina Faso. Coefe has been a government minister, a UNDP executive in West Africa and a World Bank consultant.
Same case applies for the appointment of Jean-Pierre Kimalaya as board chair Airtel DRC. He was the Economic Advisor to President Kabila of the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Others include Claude Ayo Iguendha as board chair in Gabon.
Airtel late last year decided to make what it called Apex level changes which saw the formation of a Governance Board oversighting the entire business. It is composed of Sunnil Mittal and his two Vice-Chairmen, as well as Manoj Kohli and four Bharti veterans.
In Africa the business was restructured into four business units, Nigeria and DRC are stand alone, while one cluster consists of Zambia, Congo Brazzaville, Malawi, Burkina Faso, Niger, Chad, Madagascar and Seychelles. This cluster is led VG Somasekhar.
Kenya is clustered with Ghana, Uganda, Tanzania, Gabon, Sierra Leone and Rwanda in the other business unit which is led by Christophe Soulet.
Soulet has also worked with Tigo in Ghana and DRC explaining the connection with Adil El Yousseffi, a Moroccan who has been heading Tigo, Ghana.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013


 Unconfirmed reports indicate that telco Airtel may have purchased the Kenya operations of Essar Communications run under the brand yuMobile.

Sources cannot seem to give a rationale for the alleged purchase but point that it could be acquisition of subscribers.

yu has been seeking ways to pay mast fees it owes Airtel and has talked of bringing in a strategic investor.

Will update as soon as we get details.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Telcos, Safaricom, Airtel woo unregistered customers as CEOs see red

There comes a time, when even as a CEO of a major corporation, you realize that in the scheme of things, you are just another citizen to the government.

That was the it moment for telecom operators earlier this week when government decided to crack down on their CEOs for failing to register SIM cards within their network.

After what seemed a harmless threat by the Cabinet Secretary for Information that Telcos CEOs would be held criminally liable for unregistered SIM cards on their networks, CID officers were dispatched to collect them from their premises.

As CEOs frantically paced back and forth trying to figure out what was going on, it became apparent that CID officers would pounce on them once they came out and march them to the nearest police station.

Telkom Orange CEO Mickael Ghossein was the first to record his statement on Monday and later went back on Tuesday.

With Twitter buzzing about his imminent arrest, Safaricom's CEO Bob Collymore also recorded his statement on Tuesday.

Shivan Bhargava of Airtel had to play hide and seek with the CID officers and eventually made it out of Parkside Towers through the Fire Escape and the basement.

Madhur Taneja appeared to be spared.

Airtel and yu are the worst offenders, a person with familiarity of the situation said.

Indeed, Airtel was said to have about 600,000 unregistered SIM cards as well as those that were registered with false ID numbers.

Safaricom because of its M-PESA network had relatively much fewer but still had SIM card numbers being activated without registration.

A press conference by the four CEOs on Tuesday had to be rescheduled for 12:30 PM to allow technicians time to purge the offending numbers so that the telcos would demonstrate that they were compliant.

This they largely managed to do as the situation was drastically different from the day before when they were first summoned. Many unregistered numbers had disappeared as technicians spent the whole night working the systems.

Their indignation at their treatment was however misdirected as they blamed CCK.

Few took time to reflect on the fact that at the time of the ICC cases, they were able to provide prosecutors with the call records of key government figures during that time including who they called, who called them and so on.

When asked to provide call records for the Westgate terrorists, they did not have them.

Observing the mood of the CID officers sent to the telcos offices, staff said the order had to have come from the very top.

Meanwhile, faced with the prospect of revenue losses from switching off unregistered SIMs, some of the telcos have now begun reaching out to the owners of those numbers asking them to update their details.

Monday, September 30, 2013

NIS asks Safaricom, Airtel for Westgate mobile intel

National Intelligence Service (NIS) agents have asked mobile network operators Safaricom and Airtel to provide details of incoming and outgoing calls from the Westgate Mall at the time of the attack on shoppers by armed militants said to be Shabab.

This is another development that illuminates the number of areas security agencies need to incorporate in their national security plans.

Safaricom technicians say the information is gleaned from the four masts nearest to the Mall and of the data provided to the NIS agents, a lot of it involved international calls incoming most likely from relatives of those who were caught up in the mall during the attacks.

They added that had the authorities alerted them, they could have told them the closest they can provide information to real time is with a delay of 30 minutes.

But it is also possible to isolate all Mobile Outgoing Calls from Westgate that terminated in say Eastleigh or any other location in Kenya.

That would certainly be the tactic that NIS would seek to apply to try and narrow down to the suspected Shabab terrorists in case they were using mobile phones to communicate.

If they have credible leads then from there what they would seek to do is to establish pattern and networks.

This means they will go back to Safaricom and Airtel and get the call logs for those numbers they suspect were used by the terrorists.

Anyone who called them, and how often, and anyone they called and how often would also be snared into the dragnet so as to establish other liaisons as well as to nab high-worth suspects that can provide high-grade actionable information.

So expect a wave of arrests in the next two months or so.

Friday, September 20, 2013


 Safaricom is digging up the city of Nairobi and along major highways as it lays 12,000 KM of fiber optic cable, 6000KM in Nairobi alone.

Contrary to what many people may think, Telkom Orange, KDN and Jamii Telecom are not the targets, AccessKenya is.

AK, recently the target of acquisition by Dimension Data, has spent about half a billion shillings to put up close to 400Km of cable in Nairobi and Mombasa.

But the sheer scale of Safaricom's effort dwarfs this and makes the case that perhaps it is the right time for the Somen's to sell.

Safaricom is not just overwhelming Access with the size and reach of its network, it also plans to hunt it in packs - of dealers.

Safaricom will not sell the fiber directly to neighbourhoods or households, it will first and foremost be a carrier of carriers.

In other words, it will lease the capacity to others for onward selling to customers. By putting many players in this field, it saves itself the cost of putting up costly sales infrastructure and fosters fierce competition against the likes of AccessKenya who will have to contend with different players selling Safaricom broadband in different parts of Nairobi, Mombasa and everywhere else they may operate.

While Safaricom says it will work with Telkom Orange to provide complementarity, it seems pretty clear, funds allowing, it intends to roll out county infrastructure to serve each county.

It is another step in the astonishing growth and total dominance of Safaricom in telecommunications, and one which inevitably will eventually see the breakup of the company by the government considering it is unmatched in another fast growing category Mobile Finance, and is still controls 70 per cent of the voice market.

Access meanwhile, will need to re strategize and chart out its future. If Dimension could have made a play for KDN's infrastructure and combine it with AccessKenya's metro infrastructure, they may have had a chance.

KDN was however taken over by Liquid Telecom which has a pan-African fiber network operation and recently opened what it called East Africa's largest Data Center.

If not, its curtains.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013


Phone records from the post-election period for 10 personalities mostly pro-Kibaki including current President Uhuru Kenyatta's (both Safaricom and Airtle lines), a former State House operative, a Naivasha politician, among others were procured from mobile operators Safaricom and Airtel by ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda late last month and early July.

Without getting into the merits of the case filed by Stephen Kay in court, suffice to say, these two mobile operators are being sued most likely for providing personal data, call log records, to third parties.

Sources inside Safaricom indicate there were at least 10 notable personalities whose call logs from around that period the ICC wanted and came with a letter to that effect. Lawyers oversaw the pulling of the records including numbers they called, numbers that called them and how frequently.

An ICC lawyer, a lawyer for defense and one other likely from the State/AG's office were on hand as the records were retrieved indicating the ICC is still gathering evidence.

The lawyers demanded to know about the process of getting those records as well as other details like locations when calls were being made based on nearest BTS/Masts and so on. The exercise begun at Safaricom before moving to Airtel. Some of the numbers they wanted investigated did not show up as registered to anyone in the records.

Acquitted personalities Francis Muthaura and Hussein Ali's records were not requested for. This latest effort by the ICC then, seems geared specifically aimed at building the Uhuru Kenyatta case and may have informed the move to court by the president's counsel Stephen Kay.

Incidents like these, or the Eric Snowden spygate case involving US government access of personal data from Facebook, Google, Microsoft etc will serve to remind many of the need to pass the Data Protection Bill which we have been talking about for years. Europe which does not take such issues lightly has asked the US Attorney-General to explain clearly if European citizens were affected by these surveillance efforts something that could be costly for US firms found to have passed on data on Europeans to the US government.