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Google and Wananchi heat up Kenya data war

Google in partnership with Wananchi have launched Wi-Fi services in Nairobi Kenya. Wananchi is a triple-play provider that offers Internet, telephone and TV services to home users and small to medium enterprises in East Africa.

The service is available in a pay-as-you-go model and can be purchased at a daily or monthly rate.

The announcement, posted on Google's Africa blog, stated that:

"Google has been working hard to improve Internet access in Sub-Saharan Africa through programs such as Google Apps Supporting Programs for Education, technical assistance for Internet providers, and more. These efforts are part of our broader goal in Africa: to get more users online, to reduce internet access barriers, and to help develop a vibrant Internet environment. Bit by bit, the web in Africa is helping to transform communication and open up new economic opportunities.As part of these efforts, we have also been supporting local businesses to explore providing high speed WiFi at low cost. Today one such local business, Wananchi Group (K) Limited, turned on a very small, and experimental, WiFi network - called "Wazi"- at the Junction shopping area in Nairobi, Kenya. The network offers 10 minutes free access and paid daily or monthly subscriptions. Simply connect to the SSID "Wazi" and select your free or paid plan; payment is taken through credit card or mobile payments. At this point it is not clear if or how the network will expand, but there are discussions among local businesses to explore the options. For further information on location, cost and how to access, please see http://www.waziwifi.co.ke. We hope that you'll try it out."The service will be free for 10 minutes per device per day and will cost Ksh 50 (USD 0.6) per device per day or Ksh 500 (USD 5.6) per device per month.<

The service though is not targeted at heavy users who may perform tasks that will result in excessive consumption or utilization of the system or network resources, or which may weaken network performance, as determined in the service provider's sole discretion. Such tasks may include, but are not limited to: using the service to host a web server site which attracts excessive traffic at your location, continuously uploading or downloading streaming video or audio via P2P among others, UseNet hosting, or continuous FTP uploading or downloading."

2 years after arrival of the first undersea cables in the country, fast and affordable Internet connectivity remains out of reach for many Kenyans. Safaricom is the only network that has commercially rolled out a GSM 3G network and charges from Ksh 100 (USD 1.1) for 50 MB to Ksh 15,000 (USD 167) for 30 GB. Safaricom also offers a 7 day at Ksh 1000 (USD 11.1) and a 30 day bundle at Ksh 3,000 (USD 33.3), both capped at 256 Kbps (32 kilobytes per second). Orange Kenya has a similar service on its CDMA network that charges Ksh 990 (USD 11) for 7 day unlimited connectivity and from Ksh 150 (USD 1.7) for 100 MB bundles to Ksh 9490 (USD 105.5) for 15 GB. Both Orange Kenya and Airtel are in different phases of trialing their 3G GSM networks.

Fixed Internet connectivity still remains costly in the country with a limited last mile reach and expensive installation costs. The cost of last mile cabling has remained high with local counties charging high way leave fees and ISPs barely sharing infrastructure.

The government plans to set up a national LTE broadband network in a bid to increase broadband reach. At the same time, the government is reworking the arrangement on how operators access its National Optic Fiber network (NOFBI) which had been handed over to Orange Kenya for management. Operators however shunned NOFBI due to what were said to be high charges levied by Orange.

Google has long stated that bringing down the cost of connectivity while expanding its reach was one of its goals in Africa.


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