The Ripple Effect of Facebook’s Express Wi-Fi in Kenya

Watch out Safaricom, it's about to get real...


“I cannot comment on that but if Kenya is a good fit, we shall definitely consider offering to launch it here” – Ime Archibong, Facebook’s director of Product Partnerships.

That was about five months ago, when Ime Archibong was asked about Facebook’s Express WiFi and its expansion to Kenya. For the past three weeks now, residents of Kiambu, Kitengela, Limuru, Mlolongo, Thika and even Ongata Rongai, have had access to Facebook’s Express Wi-Fi, which is being offered in partnership with a company known as “Surf”.

After we broke the news that Express Wi-Fi was live in those parts of Kenya mentioned above, the excitement was evident. Seeing that Facebook is offering internet access at a super affordable price, this was expected.
A day hardly passes before you see a tweet of someone complaining of the expensive and more often than not unreliable internet access that we have locally, well with Facebook’s Express Wi-Fi entering the market, we can be sure of a market shakeup and some reforms.

Before we go too far, let us first get some history behind Surf and Express Wi-Fi. Remember AccessKenya? That Internet Service Provider (ISP) that exited the home internet market back in 2014 in favour of the more lucrative corporate space, or what I would call “being kicked out by competition”. Well, early this year, AccessKenya jumped back into the home ISP market, with a different approach this time – to offer households with low-cost data connectivity, after a partnership with a Silicon Valley startup, EveryLayer.

A baby is born

The result of this relationship between AccessKenya and EveryLayer is “Surf”. Which has already signed up more than 500 households in areas such as Buru Buru, Jericho, Kariokor, Pangani, Umoja, Hamza, Jogoo Road, Ngara, Nairobi West, and South C. Surf’s cheapest home internet bouquet costs KES.999 per month offering speeds of 5 Mbps, KES.1,999 monthly for 10 Mbps and KES.3,999 for speeds of up to 20 Mbps.

Cheap yeah? Well, the AccessKenya-backed service also offers pay-as-you-go internet, which will be our focus today. According to Business Daily Africa, the service has registered more than 38,000 users. The service offers a daily plan for 100 MB at KES.20, 500 MB weekly bouquet for KES.100 and 3GB in a monthly plan for KES.500. This is what we now refer to as “Express Wi-Fi by Facebook“.

Now let us look at what we currently have in the market and compare it to Express Wi-Fi. Study the table below (don’t worry, it’s not an exam. there are no questions below it).

 Express Wi-FiSafaricomAirtelOrange
Daily (KES.20)100MB35MB50MB40MB
Weekly (KES.100)500MB200MB250MB200MB
Monthly (KES.500)3GB1GB1.2GB1GB

That right there is what we call undercutting your competition. Our sources at Safaricom, told us that news of Express Wi-Fi sent shock waves in the company, and it should. Internet access, which is now a human right, is slowly turning into a basic need, especially to millennials. Capturing and retaining new customers will now not only depend on the ISPs network coverage but the prices they offer as well.

Sshh, you didn’t hear this from us…

We got wind that Safaricom is planning to launch a new service sometime next week, whether it is a retaliation to Express Wi-Fi or not, we don’t know. Dubbed “FLEX” the new service will allow customers to use their airtime to buy “Flex units” which can then be used for data, voice and SMS with no fixed allocation to any of the three, thus it gives you the flexibility of using the bought bundle for either of the three.

One (1) Flex unit gets you 20 Seconds of talk time or 3 MB of data or KES.3 worth of sms. You can then purchase Daily Flex @ KES.99 valid for 24 hours, weekly Flex @ KES.599 valid for 7 days and a monthly Flex @ KES.2,499 valid for 30 days.

From the above information, this means that you can get 297MBs for the daily Flex, 1797MBs for the weekly Flex and 7497MBs for the monthly Flex. Assuming that a shilling of airtime is equal to 1 Flex unit and that you will only use your Flex (Flexes?) for data.

Airtel on the other hand, has its own issues to deal with and we do not know if they will stick to their current data charges or cut them further, especially after making unwelcome changes to the much loved Unliminet service.

As a consumer, competition is good, it will ensure that I get the best internet at the best prices. Remember when Safaricom launched Safaricom Fibre To The Home in collaboration with Kenya Power? The service, which I use at home, offers great speeds at really good prices, its a no brainer (although it’s still more expensive than Surf’s Home Internet). This caught other ISPs such as JTL and Zuku off-guard and you can tell by the number of adverts you see JTL running on TV today. But Safaricom didn’t offer the same (good prices) for their mobile data.

With Express Wi-Fi around, let’s wait and see how Safaricom will try to keep its customers, because believe me you, Express Wi-Fi’s expansion to more areas in the country, will threaten Safaricom’s revenue from mobile data, if they maintain the status quo.