Liquid Telecom Succeeds in providing milkshakes, fails in connectivity

Last year, I wrote this story of pathetic connectivity at the Connected Kenya Summit. The issue was; how can you have a conference talking about connectivity and one of the most touted regional company can not manage internet connectivity?

This year, Liquid Telecom decided to abandon its core business and succeed in the food and beverage department. While the wifi didn’t work from the word go in the morning, Liquid shakes were working very well and some internet-frustrated attendees enjoyed the milkshakes thoroughly.

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I am sure for some people, having no internet connectivity is good for concentration but you know what? we are so hooked that people switched to their mobile hotspots, which means that in a room of 400 people, there were probably 300 hotspots.

This resulted to Liquid Telecom blaming these little hotspots for the failure in their network set up. Apparently these little hotspots were clogging the network. This didn’t make sense.

I have attended the Mobile World Congress, which is attended by 100,000 people and each provider has their network and yet, the public wifi works very well. How does it work?

Anyway, I think Liquid had a problem with their network and for a company of their repute, I think we should have gotten a better excuse/reason.

Apparently, the organisers were promised an STM1 (155mbps) and Ben Roberts, Liquid CEO confirmed that they were pushing 170mbps which is huge.

The duties were also subdivided; Orange were providing online streaming and Liquid to handle the conference connectivity.

But the milkshakes worked well for all attendees….

 

Connected Kenya Summit makes prog. changes….

Last year was my first time at Connected Kenya and I wrote this post suggesting some changes. The best part is that the program this year has changed.

The program has been changed to include breakout sessions, it has different tracks, the speakers seem to be on topic and the projection seems to be working ok…….

But… how do we deal with death by powerpoint, do we change font, do we say presentations are on for 15 minutes or what do we do with those power points?

I was seated next to Sam Gichuru of Nailab and he was not impressed with the presentations, he thought much should change in the presentations area.

“The set up is brilliant, the tech is good, the process and venue is good but the content needs to be repackaged to reflect the dynamics of attendees, less powerpoint and more discussions beteween the presenters and the audience,” said Gichuru.

The bigger point is, we have Oracle, SAP, Dimension Data, Liquid Telecom, Orange etc as sponsors, how about we engage in discussions regarding implementation of projects and how to overcome strategies.

For instance, government paid for 14 Oracle modules in IFMIS, how comes only three have been implemented, or something like that. We can get powerpoint as attachments or via bluetooth and read and discuss between the speakers and delegates.

For better details, please read the year old post 🙂

East Africa Ministers stay in the hotel whole day

Government Ministers from Rwanda and Uganda were forced to stay in their hotel rooms after Fred Matiangi, Cabinet Secretary in the Ministry of Information and Communication failed to turn up for the first day of Connected Kenya Summit.

Matiangi was meant to open the first day of Connected Kenya and launch the ICT Masterplan (revamped) but he was apparently/allegedly held up in meetings with the president and could not make it for the first day. Word is that he will arrive later tonight, to participate in the second day.

The minsters/reps from East Africa could not participate in the conference because protocol demands that if you visit a country in official government capacity, then your host must be there to receive you. If not, it would break protocol or raise an international incident.

It would be nice to hear stories of how Uganda and Rwanda have implemented the digital companies registry. Kenya is yet to get there.

Let us see if they turn up tomorrow….

Help Kenyan students with disability get to 5m

Safaricom will donate Ksh. 5 million to match the views on this video. It is the story of young Susan, her struggle and acceptance of living with visual impairment. It is very moving. Watch the kids in the field as they prepare for a sprint and the kids in the computer lab.

The big deal is not the Ksh 5 million, Safaricom can donate that, the issue is raising awareness on issues of disability and getting more people to provide information and services that cater for the needs of those living with disability.

The video coincided with the launch of a revamped Safaricom website that has made technical and content tweaks to ensure that people living with visual impairment can access services as well as anyone else can.

For instance, photos should be as descriptive as possible, so that those using assistive technology can have the same info or create the same image as anyone else. Think about the radio or magazine programs; there are those that will give shallow information and there are those that that delve deep into descriptions, make you paint the image in your head and in the end, the intended impact is clearer.

Pupils at the Thika School for the Blind use computers. Technology provides immense opportunities for teachers and students.

Pupils at the Thika School for the Blind use computers. Technology provides immense opportunities for teachers and students.

 

Why should we care?

There are those who argue that every site has its audience and if the people living with disability cannot access, well, maybe they should stick to braille. The video above will also share the plight of students sharing text books and how technology has bridged that gap. If all sites made the teaks, then more people should access this information and its benefits.

Yes, the first is bridging the technology gaps; of the eight schools for special needs in Kenya, only Thika School for the Blind has access to computers; and even then, the lab caters for 100 students. The other schools will have to hope that one day, they will share the benefits of technology. Hopefully soon.

When you think of call to innovation, who does it target? Imagine if the students and graduates living with disability had the same opportunities to create cool applications? Maybe they will come up with applications that can be used globally. If you think of the saying that its only the wearer of the shoe who knows where it pinches, maybe there would be ground breaking collaborations. Of course, just like in Kenya’s tech community, many ideas fail, before one idea ends up to be the one, but at least the chances are there.

There is also the issue of increased employment opportunities; if the students are exposed to technology early, they can get new ideas to earn a living and in this era of technology, no one cares much so long as you can deliver on the other end.

Exposure also means that students learn code and programming early and can therefore take that route if interested. For those who remember Idd Salim, the late blogger and developer, those who went to Starehe with him knew that all what he wanted to do was computer stuff, and that is what he became. Nowadays many schools offer computer lessons for students. For many people, the internet is a well of opportunity; online publishing, open source collaborations etc…..

 

Braille is the common mode of communication, which means if you can't read or write braille, communication is tough. Emails provide an opportunity for better communication.

Braille is the common mode of communication, which means if you can’t read or write braille, communication is tough. Emails provide an opportunity for better communication.

 

Step by step

Two years ago, I had a chance to train young men and women from Africa Youth With Disability Network. The training was mainly on using online media. The best part about the training was that I learnt how to appreciate even the small changes that people make in order to embrace people living with disability.

The excitement of posting the first blog post, tweet or Facebook is the same for a person living with disability, as well as the able bodied person. But while an able bodied person doesn’t have to struggle so much

Anyway, go ahead and watch the video 🙂

Wananchi Group in Sh. 270m deal with Nairobi County

Wanachi Group has signed a $3 million (approx. 270m) deal with the Nairobi county, to connect 2,715 schools in Nairobi with internet.

The project was launched today and by June this year (yes, in 3 months), the pilot of 245 schools is expected to be done.  After that the project will be evaluated and the second phase rolled out in three to five years.

“In addition to the free Internet, Wananchi will provide each school with a digital set top box for connection to a television for use in delivery of audio content to students. Pre-primary kindergartens will be equipped with a digital set top box and a small television,” said the release from Wananchi.

Wananchi is the force behind Zuku and in as much as they have done very well to dominate fiber to the home, I wonder how they will handle a project of this magnitude. Yes, they have bottomless pockets with the recent acquisition but I hope this project will have a better ending.

Apparently, the project will not cost the government anything but I have heard that story before. A private, profit making enterprise splashing sh. 270m from the goodness of their hearts and expecting no favours from powers that be?

Of all the big ISPs (tier 1), I think Wananchi has been missing in big government contracts and this may be a chance to show that they can compete and deliver quality public services. Safaricom, JTL, Orange, and Liquid have all had a chance to provide large scale services to government.

Local vs. international transit bandwidth

I am hoping that Wananchi will use the opportunity to drum up support for local content and hosting and in the process take advantage of the massive telco infrastructure it has put up.

If the content remains international, then Wananchi will have bandwidth issues given the challenges of lighting up TEAMS fiber optic cable (that one deserves a post). Wananchi is one of the companies almost or already maxing on their share of the already lit fiber and the policy requires them to buy from the other shareholders though the price is not fixed.

Wananchi could press for a new lighting policy, that would allow them to satisfy the demand, but if it is a question of local loop utilisation, then probably very few ISPs can beat them on that.

I am sure they have a way to manage the network in such a way that it will not impact existing customers on the network.

One laptop project

I am not sure where this project fits with the one laptop per child or whatever we will call the 24b project, but for the Nairobi schools, this will be a blessing if it goes through. If the school has existing network, then whatever IT projects coming up will benefit them. The other ISPs should adopt the other counties and do the infrastructure and this whole ICT for schools promise will become reality faster.

Let us see what happens after the pilot……

 

ICT Authority Board Meant to Cure old conflict issues

In January, Fred Matiang’i, Cabinet Secretary in the Ministry of Information and Communication inaugurated a new ICT Authority Board.

 

He appointed:

  1. Prof Timothy Waema

  2. Ms Esther Kibeere

  3. Ms Bertha Dena

  4. Prof Elijah Omwenga

  5. Mr David Mugo

  6. Mr Ugas Mohamed

My knee jerk reaction was that the CS had given a salute to the private sector and civil society “noise makers”. You see, one can give a salute with the whole hand or fold some fingers, if you get the drift. Either way, the private sector and civil society was largely missing, as the board became more academic and political; the chair is Edwin Yinda, a former member of parliament.

As I was thinking why the private sector and civil society was dissed like that, I recalled the earlier days of how the ICT Board was dominated by private sector and slowly people started speaking out against the apparent conflicts of interest.

The major and saddest incident is well documented in this 2008 story where Peter Kimacia quit as a board member.  He had his own version of the ICT Villages and the board had to change its project to Pasha centres, to deal with the ensuing confusion. I think the whole digital villages project was doomed from this point and it never recovered. Peter also never seemed to go far with his ICT villages project, that seemed to have the support of the ICT sector. Read what some Kictanet members said about it.

Then there was the incident where the board sponsored an event led by Kevit Desai, another board member.  You can read more about it here.

I think with this board, the CS was probably more careful, opting to go with Ugas Mohamed,  the CEO of FON, the fiber provider that is yet to get traction in the market.

By filling the board with academia and safe bets, does it make it better for the private sector to do business? Well, that will only remain to be seen.

Is it better to have established and industry folks running ICT policy affairs? The opinions are divided.

Are people in the ICT sector expecting drastic transformation and implementation of the roadmaps, walk paths, eating trajectory, vision 2030 or any other papers that are gathering dust? I don’t think so.

I think the board now has an opportunity to surprise the majority.

 

Book review: Money, Real quick- the Mpesa story

About three weeks ago, Safaricom held a function to celebrate the book  “money, real quick” which relates to Kenya’s use of mobile money, commonly known as Mpesa. The reason why I say celebrate is because the book was launched in 2012 in Italy and has been available on the kindle and Amazon.

The book was sponsored by Rockefeller Foundation and was written by Nicholas Sullivan, a senior fellow at Fletcher school and Tonny Omwansa, a lecturer at the University of Nairobi.

The book was commissioned to provide a journalistic narrative driven story as well as highlight the impact Mpesa has had in the  country and the region. The book makes a very easy read and is very detailed, aside from a few areas where the story jumps back and forth and introduces topics with no details but you get the details later. Some of the stories were not tight enough, like the way the story of the iHub is told, I felt it should have been knitted better.

Moving on…..

When I saw the invite, I remember thinking, these will be the same stories of Mpesa, how Vodafone came to rescue us, this poor person, this farmer, this who bla bla….. you can insert your own Mpesa stories, rinse and repeat.

Then I remembered that I have always had all these Mpesa questions that I needed the book to answer. I am not sure whether you have similar questions but here is my list;

1. How exactly did Mpesa idea germinate?

I am sure we have all heard of the cases in court with business people and most notably Faulu Kenya, which is well addressed in the book.

The book traces the origin of Mpesa idea to series of workshops and meetings between Kenya’s finance sector players, telcos (vodafone, Safaricom reps), government types and all sorts of people. The role of DFID, British government donor arm is well underscored in their financing and follow up.

The book confirmed my perception, there is no way any Kenyan or individual entity can claim a piece of the pie while the initial investment was made by the British government and Vodafone. They gambled on an idea and it paid off.

Compare this to the countries who demand that the US government should not control the internet through the ICANN. The US government invested heavily in the development of the internet and it will take time for the US to let ICANN go. You can read more about ICANN here and here.

So, for those thinking that they can lay future claim to development of Mpesa, get the book and get a hint. Accept and move on….

2. What happened to the deal between Safaricom and Equity Bank over Mkesho?

Safaricom and Equity had developed a nice product for the mass market and the deal seemed like a union made in heaven, given the two companies’ huge marketing budgets and their ability to ride the mass market.

Michael Joseph has given an account of how the deal went south, how Equity decided to compete with Safaricom after the idea to split the money 50-50 went sour. Get the book and read about the tech innovation contest and who thought the other had no business in technology but marketing. It will surprise you 🙂

I am sure you all know that Equity Bank has applied for a Mobile Virtual Network Operator (MVNO) to roll out services in 11 African countries in conjunction with Airtel. Maybe Equity is making good its intention to compete with Safaricom and push to the region, in a way that Airtel has been unable to do, at least in the Kenyan market.

The book has juicy details from MJ.

 

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3. Interoperability with other mobile money providers

The book gives the history of mobile money in Kenya and the players. It talks about issues of favouritism that government bodies have extended to Safaricom and how it dealt with them. It talks about the Central Bank regulations and dances around the issue of transferring money across the board.

4. Konza technopolis, silicon savannah, ….

Most of the books on Kenyan tech have tend to always mention Konza, that is why I expected it. The writers talk of BPO growth and how Konza will catalyse it. I guess they missed the memo that Kenyan BPO is dead and the ICT marketing bodies have moved to other sexy topics like managed services…

The book talks about Konza in detail and says all those things people say….. nothing new.

Overall the book makes a nice read especially with the history of Kenya’s financial sector, definitions like what is last mile and first mile….. and of course it has all the key buzz words; bottom of the pyramid, towards financial inclusion, and banking the unbanked, among others.

The book is priced £9.99 and $2.99 and I think the paper back is available locally.

TESPOK now wants to manage KENIC

About a week ago, I received a press release, which I guess was widely circulated. It was from the Telecommunications Service Providers of Kenya, commonly known as TESPOK.  It was sent by the Access Kenya PR machine, maybe because Kris Senanu, Access Kenya MD is the chair of TESPOK.

Since then, a lot has been said and you can read John Walu’s blog in the nation online and if you are new to matters KENIC and domain names in Africa, you can read some posts I have done over the years.

Back to TESPOK, their concern was that the Communications Commission of Kenya (CCK) soon to be Communications Authority of Kenya (CAK) had not consulted them on the idea of commercialising the .ke domain. The release was responding to a story appearing in the papers to that effect.

Kris Senanu, TESPOK Chair

Kris Senanu, TESPOK Chair

Now, TESPOK sits on the KENIC board, the release clearly indicates that it is one of the founding stakeholders and at the height of the crises at KENIC board, TESPOK gladly took over the technical functions at KENIC. It may well be that TESPOK didn’t want the disruption of services for .ke owners but it may also be that TESPOK was comfortable with the status.There was even a proposal for revenue sharing for performance of technical function.

At the point when it emerged that the new law would change the structure of KENIC, I expected TESPOK to be more vocal and to be the leading light, but maybe its just me, maybe they started the debate earlier.

When I got the release, my first reaction was: What changed at the KENIC board? The balance has been altered.

Then I got to the last segment of the release…. boom….

“Unfortunately, over the last five years interference of CCK, now CAK, in the day to day operations of KENIC has seen the organization experience unprecedented turnover of both Board and staff; with 5 CEO changes. The functions of KENIC have continued to be delivered because TESPOK maintained its commitment to the local industry as per the ICANN Agreement to provide technical and logistical support to the .ke manager.  It is important for CCK/CAK to give the .ke ccTLD manager the opportunity to deliver on agreed key deliverables that have not been met in the last five years. Commercialization is not a solution to meeting the identified and agreed industry gaps within the local internet community.

 TESPOK has both the technical and administrative resources necessary to continue as a sole guarantor of the ccTLD if and when CAK pulls out. It has provided such support in the past. This will evidently lead to consolidating the Internet technical community shared resources under one umbrella body; a move very similar to, the consolidation of the various government agencies handling government ICT deployment and implementation under the Kenya ICT Authority. The scenario would then consolidate KENIC (the .ke manager), KIXP (Africa’s fastest growing Internet Exchange Point) and I-CSIRT (Internet Computer Security Incident Response Team) under the TESPOK stewardship.”

 

The last para is where the weight is, TESPOK wants to handle the .ke registry. It is very clear that they have outlined their capacity. Please note, it says TESPOK can continue as the sole guarantor of the ccTLD, (.KE) and not of KENIC.

Technical capacity? But, KIXP was recently moved to the Liquid Telecom data centre, does it mean the KENIC registry will be moved there too?

There is a registrar organisation known as DRAKE that is represented in the KENIC board, are they ok with this? (Aly Hussein used to be the representative, now I have no idea how to get to the new rep, if you know, please help me 🙂

I am told of  battles of supremacy between DRAKE and TESPOK over who is the industry voice and who is king. There are some who think that registries like .ke thrive because of registrars example Nominet in the UK, while others feel the role of ISPs is vital.

It depends on which camp you are because there are arguments that ISPs have shifted from domain and hosting business and left it to smaller players who make it their core business.

There is no doubt that the KENIC story is convoluted and the decision for CCK to leave KENIC board and be replaced by the ICT Authority doesn’t make much sense. It is the same government, CCK and ICTA are brothers or sisters, whatever they want to do they can, let us not kid ourselves.

CCK says it has extended the comments on the new law by a week and when the time comes for the application process, I wonder whether TESPOK will put in a separate bid or will seek to protect KENIC and have it continue with the functions.

Time will tell…….

 

 

Ndemo to advise Kenyan president on ICT

After the General Elections this year, there was much anticipation regarding the ICT docket; some wondered whether the Bitange Ndemo, former Permanent Secretary in Info Comm would become the new Cabinet Secretary or he would continue his role as PS. Others thought he would go to the education ministry to implement the laptop project.

There are others who felt that there was need for new blood, that the ICT sector could benefit from someone with new ideas and momentum. Others felt that Ndemo already had his people and a new person would help with new alliances. Well, the alliances part has veterans, who support AGIP- Any Government In Power, so, whoever comes, they quickly line behind them.

After much politicking, it was clear that Ndemo was out and in was Fred Matiangi as the CS and another person was PS, where is this guy anyway? Depending on which side you were, there were tributes and jubilations.

Immediately after leaving, Ndemo got appointment to several places, most notable at the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) among others. I guess it meant he had something to contribute.

 

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After several months, the president, deputy, his hangers on and advisors must have realised that they made a mistake by just letting the guy go. He was appointed as the ICT advisor. I am not sure who is senior between him and the CS but I think the government must have realized they need him somewhere.

“My role is short term leading a project on Police automation starting with activation of 999 and 112 which are operational now.  We have also developed a citizen engagement portal that will help the police to receive information from the public on incidents and any other matter relating to public security,” Ndemo said.

I am one of those hoping that the automation process will go well and that this year’s connected gov summit will have new practical materials to discuss and not just theories and disconnected stuff.

So, does he think he will have any impact?

“This will greatly contribute to ICT sector.  For a starter, the 24 hour call center has 60 agents using art of state CRM software.  Leveraging on the technology will enhance service delivery and secure our people.  We shall build data analytic capabilities within the country.  As you know we have so much data but until we convert it into information, it will never help us in decision making,” he added.

It may be a short term project but in the end, maybe the government can automate, one department at a time. We want to see results 🙂

 

Industry Consultations between the Communications Authority of Kenya and Mobile Network Operators

Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) met today with the Communications Authority of Kenya (CAK) to discuss the quality of service delivery to consumers. This is after a recent report by CAK  see here revealed the declining performance in service delivery to mobile users.

Today’s meeting was held under the auspice of the recently passed Kenya Information and Communication Amendment Act, 2013 and the need to review the performance of the sector.

The MNO’s agreed to discuss the methodology and parameters for measurement of the Quality of Service with the Authority to address the changing dynamics in the sector. “The current methodology is not inclusive of all key performance indicators for instance data protection. We need to see what is feasible and what’s not ” said Wangusi Francis the Director General CAK

The authority is in the process of outsourcing the quality of service measurement in order to infuse efficiency. The consultant will help with segmentation of the country to realize the eight key performance indicators.

The authority has also noted the rampant vandalism of the infrastructure and its effect on the development of networks. “I commit myself to working in close consultation with the Ministry of Transport and Infrastructure as well as county governments in order to ensure proper planning that makes provision for way leaves and infrastructure corridors during constructions” said Fred Matiang’i cabinet Secretary, Ministry of Information, Communications and Technology.

The telecoms industry has consistently demonstrated its potential through an increased growth rate over the years. The National ICT Master plan targets a contribution of 25% to the GDP by 2017. In 2013, the government revenue from the sector was $480 million an approximate of 5.8% of the overall tax revenue and over 23 million mobile money transfers and over 200,000 jobs!

Some of the setbacks experienced so far include: cyber security, ICT services, sim card registration, registration of minors, confidentiality, whether proxies are required or not and the  high roaming charges within the East Africa Community.

On what should be a happy note for the consumer, the authority and the ministry together with other sector players are working on a framework that will help reduce the roaming charges within the region so that mobile users in Kenya and the East African community can communicate at affordable costs.

Operators expressed optimism of the Kenya Information and Communications Act, (Amendment) of 2013 gazetted on 10th January 2014. They equally endorsed the Kenya Information and Communications (Registration of Subscribers of telecommunications Services) Regulations, 2014 which will soon be promulgated by the Communications Authority.

When asked about Safaricom’s license renewal given that today’s meeting was to encourage stakeholders to enhance good will, Wangusi said that they are going to see if Safaricom operations are in line with the law and if they are in order there is no problem with their license renewal CAK is going to be firm but fair.

Now, there is another committee that has been put in place and I have come to accept that perhaps committees are the only way to solve issues in Kenya maybe they are not bad after all, but that name is a trademark. Anyhow there is a technical committee in place on matters of movement to LTE (4G) network to see how spectrum is going to be released after digital migration. Then we are going to patiently wait to be informed on the approach  used.

And as I pen down be reminded that penalities for all defaulters are still in place!