My 2021 started with me ditching Airtel once again, and this must have been the fourth or fifth time I have done so – the first time being that time I threw my Airtel Line down the trench. Although Airtel has not resolved some of the issues I raised in that article, the reasons for ditching them this time round are completely different – and these three reasons are the reasons Airtel will remain a stagnant loss making Telco in the Kenyan market.
If there is one thing Airtel is known for is copying the promotional strategies Safaricom implements. There are numerous examples but the most recent everyone might be familiar with was the Safaricom promotion that awarded Safaricom users 500MBs of data when the user bought Non-expiring data. There were Safaricom users that were allowed to spend as little as Shs 20 for data purchase to become eligible for the daily 500MBs. The promotion went on for about three months.
To copy Safaricom, Airtel introduced a new Unliminet offers dubbed “Amazing Data Bundles” that came with 500MBs awarded every midnight of each day to last for 24 hours. That offer drew me back to them, hoping that somehow they’d see how that offer drew me and many others to their network thus they’d make it permament.
But no, after the offer period came to an end, Airtel decided to pull the plug on their bonus bundles.
You see with the bonus bundles the data offer was reasonable and very convenient to majority of us. For shs 1000 a month for example, I was able to access 27 GB of data. The only telco that comes close to that is Faiba 4G but which offers 25 GB data for shs 1000. Telkom Kenya knows about this and that’s why they offer 30 GB for shs 1000, although their offer too has issues as I explained in the article The blunder Telkom made with its affordable Mobile Internet.
2. Market Research
Lack of market research has made it impossible for people like Airtel to know that most of us don’t really mind making calls at the rate of shs 3 a minute. That what we really care about is affordable Internet as majority have gone to spending time watching YouTube videos, scrolling through Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook posts, and swiping through WhatsApp status updates. On average, a person with a smartphone will spend most of her time on Internet based social media platforms instead of texting or making calls, and thus would rather have access to affordable Internet instead of being offered those 10,0000 free SMSes or 100 minutes talk time for Airtel to Airtel phone calls.
If Airtel wants to grow therefore, they should restructure their offers to affordable Internet, and the rule of thumb they should go with is that by and large majority of us would appreciate 30 GB data for shs 1000 each month… and this data offering shouldn’t be such that it is dished at the rate of 1 GB per day (see The blunder Telkom made with its affordable Mobile Internet), otherwise everyone could have by now made their way to Telkom Kenya.
Airtel as a global firm has the resources to roll out infrastructure to thereafter finance aggressive marketing for the adoption of their services in a country like Kenya. For example, investing some shs 10 billion to ensure proper infrastructure exist in all populated areas is something Airtel can afford, and given Safaricom’s profitability, it is possible to get returns on investment in less than five years.
Investing in proper infrastructure will be key when they want to consider offering suitable data bundles e.g. 30 GB for 1K. That’s because such an offer will definitely draw every data intensive users to their network, but if the network is at the state it is currently is, the new subscribers will find their way back to Safaricom as the data demand will definitely overload existing infrastructure.
It doesn’t require magical thinking for someone to see how Airtel or even Telkom can grow to become viable competitors of Safaricom. The simple steps outlined here can indeed ensure sustainable growth of Airtel Kenya such that in five or so years the telco will be boosting of similar subscriber numbers that Safaricom has, and data is indeed the way to go. Today, new subscribers are mostly teenagers who do not care about making calls or sending text messages, but spending their phone time on social media. Instead of giving these teens free WhatsApp and free Facebook, what the telcos ought to do is to make the data affordable.
As of today affordable data can be argued to be 30 GB for shs 1,000 that lasts for a month, but as years go by, the data offering must get cheaper and cheaper. Hopefully soon with 5G the telcos will find it possible to offer unlimited Internet for a flat rate of something like shs 3K or so.