Safaricom Fair Use Policy is Fair and Here is Why

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KOT has been on fire over the decision by Safaricom to introduce the Fair Use Policy (FUP) starting next month. So what is Fair use policy and why is Safaricom introducing it now.

While the data packages are designed to give unlimited broadband experience to the subscribers, few customers may use excessive amounts of  data , causing  congestion on the network. In order not to impair the experience of other users, a Fair Usage Policy is applied.

In the case of Safaricom, the few consumers using excessive amounts of data t have been fingered as data resellers. The issue of people selling data from Safaricom is not new, they had to deal with the same with their mobile data sometime back. At the time, using the sambaza service allowed users to share data bundles with other users. The telco had to limit that service, a move that drew similar reactions to what we are seeing at the moment.  

That said one would still ask why now and why not single out the resellers and then limit their data use? Initially when Safaricom started rolling out their Home Fiber, they were hailed as the best in town and many people moved from Zuku which was the dominant force at the time when it comes to home fiber.

In a shared network which is what is being rolled out by all ISPs for Home Fiber, if a few people on the same line consume excessive amount of data, some will miss out entirely Safaricom realized that their network was being congested by data hogs/resellers who could potentially degraded the quality of  service for other customers

What is the difference between Dedicated and Shared Broadband?

The most important point to understand with shared fiber or broadband, which is also known as PON (Passive Optical Network) is the use of a single strand of optical fiber to support multiple customers or clients. In other words, broadband Internet connection is a shared network, amongst many different users in a given area, sharing one larger connection. The amount of bandwidth/data offered is only up to the maximum available or package speed. This is why the ISPs market the package of a broadband as up to a certain speed. For instance, you can get up to 10MBps or 20MBps or even 100MBPs.

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As for the dedicated internet connection, the provider uses one strand of fiber to support one client or dedicates a specific amount of bandwidth for one specific connection.  This bandwidth is not shared with anyone else other than the users of that physical circuit. Why are not many using the dedicated network? The answer is simple, it is very expensive and not many can afford to get the dedicated fiber. This is mostly left for the very big businesses.

When it comes to broadband, if there are a few data hogs on a given strand of fiber using excessive amounts of data all day, the other customers sharing the same network cannot get the value for their money. Seems like Safaricom discovered there were a number of data resellers on their shared strands. It goes without saying that while the resellers are making a profit, other customers are being affected when it comes to their home fiber experience.

The reactions online about the data cap reveals that not many want to hear any contrary opinions, but there is not much that Safaricom can do to prevent data resellers from hogging the data along the fiber strands apart from limiting the amount of data each customer can use. The question a number of people asked on Twitter is why can’t Safaricom  just single out the resellers and punish them as opposed to impose a data cap on everyone?

I put the same question to Safaricom and the answer was:

“The Fair Usage Policy only applies when a customer exceeds the limit. If a customer has not reached the limit, they will enjoy full speeds.”

What is the fair use amount of data?

First, here is the proposed data cap by Safaricom

Let’s take a look at how a typical family household consumes data in their home:

  1. Streaming, Downloading and Watching Movies/ TV Shows
  2. Attending virtual meetings on Zoom, Teams, Google Meet etc
  3. Streaming sporting events like Football, mostly during weekends
  4. Streaming and listening to music

Lets look at each of the above data usage.  Watching TV shows or movies on Netflix uses about 1 GB of data per hour for each stream of standard definition video, and up to 3 GB per hour for each stream of HD video. In reality most people use standard definition videos but for the sake of this discussion, let us go with HD Video consuming 3GB of data per hour. 

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On average, downloading movies or TV shows per hour, also consumes 3GB of data. Basically those who have Netflix accounts stopped downloading movies and TV shows, while those who do not have Netflix accounts still do the downloading. Looking at my experience and I know others could go higher, the highest number of hours I have used to watch series across one weekend is about 20 Hours. That is from Friday night to Sunday. Assuming you have a family of three all watching Netflix on their devices each consuming 20GB, then in a weekend they would consume 60GB. Within 4 weekends of the month their total consumption would total up to 240GB for the Netflix or downloading only.

The next one is zoom meetings for those working at home and even in the office. On average most people attend between 2 to 3 meetings a week. Again some people are special and would have more meetings than that. A group Zoom meeting consumes between 810 MB and 2.4 GB per hour, or between 13.5 MB and 40 MB per minute. For this we go with 2.4 GB and assuming that in a household of three, each individual has 3 zoom meetings in a week each taking 2 hours. That is 72 hours for the meetings. Giving us a total of 172.8 GB of data use. Most church services which are now being attend4ed virtually last about 3 hours, that is another 12 hours for the four weeks and a total of 28.8 GB.  The total amount of data consumed in a month using zoom in such a household is 201.6 GB.

Let us now look at streaming of sports. Streaming football matches do not consume too much data as one might assume. Streaming a 90 minute football game consumes between 140mb to 180mb of good quality HD streams. Let take 180Mb for the 90minutes football games. Assuming that in the same household people watch as many football matches and other sports during the weekend and other week days. For football we normally have Champions league matches on Tuesdays and Wednesdays while the Europa league matches occur on Thursday. Assuming that one is going to watch all the available matches then Tuesday 2 games, Wednesday 2 games, Thursday 2 games. That is a total of 6 games in a week for the Champions league and Europa league matches and a total of 24 games in a month. On the weeks when there are no Champions/Europa league matches, usually there are Premier league games taking place on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.  As for the premier league, the games are mostly on Saturdays and Sundays and occasionally on Mondays or Friday.  Again if you were to watch all the games, that would be Saturday 3 games, Sunday 3 Games, Friday or Mondays 2 Games. That is a total of 8 games each weekend and a total of 32 games.  In total there would be 56 matches streamed, each consuming 180MB. That is a total of 10 GB of data.

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For music and other media like podcasts, again going with the household of 3, and each person uses Youtube, Apple Music or the Android equivalent and Spotify (Boomplay or Mdundo ).

One month of watching Youtube videos for at least an hour day would consume 2.1 GB of data. When you consider the three members of the family then we are talking about 6.3 GB.

Listening to an hour of music every day for a month on Apple Music would consume 3.3 GB, a total of 9.9GB for the three.

Finally streaming music for an hour a day on Spotify for a month would consume 4.2 GB on the extreme end, giving you a total of 12.6 for the family of three.

So for music streaming the household would consume about 28.8 GB in a month based on the above statistics.

When you consider all the above activities in a household of three, total consumption is 479.8 GB per month (28.8+10+201+240). As you can see I took the very extreme end of the data consumption and it is the reason why I agree with Safaricom when they said that the average household in Kenya consumes about 350GB of data per month.

Conclusion

Safaricom is not the first home fiber provider to introduce a fair usage policy. In fact, all ISPs in Kenya have implemented a Fair Usage Policy and the same is practiced by other providers across the world. This is necessary to ensure that customers enjoy an impeccable experience while using their fiber connections.

What is your opinion on the topic?
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