[Column] Patrick Ndegwa: Unlocking the Value of Mobile Connectivity in Kenya

Advancing far more quickly than other countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, Kenya has seen a rapid expansion of the adoption of mobile technology and mobile connectivity in recent years.

There’s debate about just how many Kenyans are Internet users, but numbers have increased substantially over the last 20 years, with just 200 000 reported users in 2000 increasing to nearly 47 million in 2019, largely driven by increased access to mobile broadband, mobile data subscriptions and low-cost smartphones. In 2019, mobile penetration in Kenya was at 112% – with over 53 million mobile connections in the country, according to the Communications Authority of Kenya

Beyond connecting locals with each other and the rest of the world, mobile Internet has started to infiltrate into different sectors of Kenya’s economy, enhancing financial services, education and health, to name a few. M-Pesa is a prime example of how mobile connectivity has transformed an entire industry, allowing millions of Kenyans to send and receive money.  

Already making a substantial economic contribution in the country – accounting for around 3% of Kenya’s GDP – the mobile sector’s impact will only grow as network coverage expands, especially as 5G technology starts to take off on the continent. And with economic advantages come social benefits too, including improved access to information, digital products and public services, facilitating innovation, entrepreneurship and international trade.

The knock-on value of mobile connectivity in Kenya cannot be overstated. However, how do we go about harnessing its benefits? Driving accelerated mobile adoption through universal access is a good starting point. Let’s look at what that means for our country. 

Understanding current barriers 

While Kenya is considered a digital transformation pacesetter in the region, many mobile users are still on 2G networks due to budgetary constraints and technology gaps. To truly reap the benefits of mobile connectivity, these barriers need to be addressed so that more Kenyans can utilise key services enabled by 3G and 4G technologies. 

Income inequality is an important factor to consider – mobile affordability for those on low incomes (an estimated 20-40% of the population) is much higher, and, therefore, presents a challenge to universal broadband coverage across the country. Cost-effective and easily accessible mobile connectivity options need to be made available for those who can’t afford current packages. 

Digital skills are also necessary for increased mobile Internet adoption. Users need to be able to engage with mobile technologies effectively to realise the full economic and social potential of connectivity. Developing the population’s digital skills is crucial for them to survive in a mobile-geared world. 

Enabling greater connectivity 

Kenya has made excellent progress in the last few years to create an empowering environment that promotes universal mobile access. To ensure an increased uptake continues, investments need to be made not only in providing mobile Internet but educating locals on the options that are available for their unique needs. 

As many Kenyans rely on word of mouth, awareness of the latest mobile developments is important for them to make use of these technologies. 

Governments and operators in this space have a critical responsibility to drive digital transformation through increased investments in mobile networks and practical solutions for barriers to adoption. With more supportive policies in place, and initiatives geared to improve the affordability of mobile services and the education of these technologies, Kenyans, in all areas, of all backgrounds and incomes, can tap into the power of mobile connectivity. 

Patrick Ndegwa is the SEACOM Business Sales Lead for SEACOM East Africa.

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