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Thursday, November 4, 2010


Tuesday night's cable cut near Museum Hill disrupted Safaricom's phone services for quite a while. But the industry is worried it has not seen the last of such outtages. You see, Kenya Data Networks the largest cable operator in the country is locked in a row with Soliton Telmec, the company that lays, maintains and supports its cable.

Soliton Telmec, headed by Abdirahman Sheikh, has been with KDN since 2004 when the latter started laying cable and has done most of its network. It also maintains and supports the network.

But with the latest dispute, the relationship seems headed for the rocks. The two firms are locked in dispute over amounts owed to Soliton for work done on the Garissa to Mombasa fiber optic line, the line meant to offer redundancy for the oft-sabotaged Nairobi - Mombasa line.

Sheikh is calm and collected on the phone when speaking about the issue but there is a hint of steel.

"We have been with KDN for six years, and it has been a fruitful relationship. But if it doesn't work out, am sure they have a plan B isn't it?"

Plan B was put to test Tuesday by the China Wu Yi construction company which inadvertently, at we would want to believe so, cut KDN's cable near Museum Hill thereby throwing Safaricom's services into disarray.

Now typically, such faults should take anywhere from 45 minutes to a couple of hours to fix depending on the nature of the damage, JTL guys told us some time back.

But that is if you have support and in this case it seems the fall out with Soliton Telmec has left KDN exposed.

A Safaricom insider had this to say, "You see these guys may not be able to offer clients the SLAs (Service Level Agreements) if they don't have Soliton to do their support."

KDN in Nairobitech's opinion, reflects too much of Naushad Merali's mish-mash business ventures although it is majority owned by Alltech of SA.

Like Sameer Group, KDN is in every sort of business and really comes off as a master of none.

Sameer where Merali also has an interest embraces businesses ranging from tyre making, to real estate (Sameer Industrial Park).

KDN also besides its fiber cable offers WiMax, VoIP, Wi-Fi, Butterfly services, Eazzytalk, CCTV cameras, data warehousing, internet portal, payment systems etc etc.

Its corresponding customer service is abysmal to say the least and both vendors and clients have a hell of a time trying to get their problems fixed.

The company is in need of a major reorganization to refocus it on key core business goals and shed off unnecessary baggage.

Although I don't see it happening, one way would be for the big telcos to take it over say Bharti Airtel or even Safaricom and incorporate it into their larger vision.

KDN says it is willing to settle the issue with Soliton through some reconciliation measures but Sheikh says he is yet to hear anything concrete and is leaving the matter to his lawyers, Ahmednasir and Company Advocates.