Facebook launches low-cost internet service, Express Wifi, in Kenya

Facebook launches low-cost internet service, Express Wifi, in Kenya
Mark Summer, Surf CEO (left), Uche Ofodile, Regional Head Africa Express WiFi by Facebook (second left), Dr. Katherine Getao, Secretary Broadcasting and Telecommunications, Ministry of ICT (second right) and Richard Hechle, CEO, Internet Solutions (right) go through the ExpressWiFi service at the launch event in Rongai

Global technology giant, Facebook, Wednesday launched Express Wifi in Kenya – a low cost internet solution that will allow subscribers to access affordable data, with a daily 40 megabyte daily data bundle going for just 10 shillings.

Partnering with Kenyan-based internet service provider, Surf, the tech giant has rolled out over 100 WiFi hotspots in the greater Nairobi area – a rollout that has been executed in conjunction with Internet Solutions, formerly Access Kenya.

Speaking at the function, the tech giant’s Regional Head of Africa Express Wi-Fi, Uche Ofodile said they chose to roll out in Kenya as the country has been leading in innovation on the continent.

“We see Kenya as the technology hub of Africa, and that ties very much into Facebook’s mission. Some of the work which we have seen happen here, in terms of Government Policy and Innovation prove that Kenya is leading,” said

According to Communication Authority’s Q1 2016-2017 Sector Statistics Report, Kenya boasts of 85.3 per cent internet penetration rate, with over 37.7 million users enjoying internet access across the country.

Despite these impressive numbers, Surf CEO Mark Summer, foresees further room for internet growth.

“Kenya has a high internet penetration rate, but if you take a deeper look at how much usage that actually translates to, you realise that the number is actually low. Our goal is to grow that because we believe that there are inherent positive effects that come with that,” said Summer.

Using any WiFi enabled device, subscribers can access Express Wi-Fi within 250 metres of the community hotspots. The service has been piloted in the greater Nairobi area, but it is already raising concerns about renewed price wars in the telecommunications sector.

Surf, whose parent company is United States-based startup Boelist Investments LTD, will sell a daily 40 megabyte (MB) data bundle at Ksh.10 – a relatively low price compared to Safaricom’s 15mb for the same price. Airtel subscribers pay Ksh.20 for a daily 50MB bundle, while those on Orange part with Ksh.19 for 40MB.

This has led to speculation that the Surf-Facebook partnership could reduce the market share for Kenya’s mainstream telecos – speculation that Facebook is quick to dispel.

“We are not here to compete. Instead, we want to be a part of the pre-existing ecosystem. We see Express Wi-Fi as a complementary service,” she said, adding that this has been proven by user behavior patterns.

This launch comes nearly a month after the service was switched on in in Ong’ata Rongai, Mlolongo, Limuru, Kitengela, Kiambu and a few other locations on the outskirts of Nairobi.

Kenya is the third country in the third country in Africa – and fourth in the world – to roll out Express Wi-Fi, after Nigeria and Uganda.

The low-cost internet service was piloted in India in 2016, after Internet.org’s primary initiative Free Basics, which was launched in 2015, came under fire for practices were deemed “restrictive” by a section of India’s government as it offered access to select applications and websites.

Founded in 2013 when Facebook partnered with Samsung, Ericsson, MediaTek, Opera Software, Nokia and Qualcomm with the aim of connecting “the next billion” to the internet, Internet.org has launched rolled projects in over 60 countries across the globe.

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Joy Chelagat
Story By Joy Chelagat
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