How the pandemic turned Kenya into a ‘texting’ nation

Mobile subscribers in Kenya have resorted to sending  short text messages (SMSs), increasing the preference by 1.62 billion in the quarter to March this year compared to a similar period last year.

SMSs sent in the third quarter to March has gone up by 9.5% to 16.82 billion from 15.36 billion according to new data by the  Communication Authority of Kenya (CA).

This marked a third-quarter growth in the SMS section  for a fifth straight year despite slumps being registered in voice traffic and data subscriptions.

“The number of short messages sent per subscription per month increased to 101.5 during the third quarter, from 95.4 messages sent last quarter,” CA said.

The number of SMSs sent in the third quarter of this year marks a 157% increase compared to a similar period in 2016 that witnessed 50%and 57% jump for voice and data respectively.

Kenyans seeking to cut costs during this turbulent economic times find SMSs more appealing. Businesses and State ministries and agencies(MDAs) have also resorted to SMS to communicate.

SMSs are more affordable compared to calls and applications like WhatsApp and are very convenient in reaching out to people in remote regions.

The CA data shows that SMS is the only service that has posted growth on quarter from March 2016, as telcos saw their talk-time and mobile data subscriptions decline.

Communication Authority headquarters in Nairobi. [p/courtesy]

Global tech giants like Google, Uber, Facebook, Apple and Airbnb have also resorted to SMSs to market their products. SMS traffic had been projected to hit 2.5 trillion across the globe by mid-2020.

As SMS segment posted growth, telcos have also recorded 15.31 billion minutes of talk-time in the three months to March– presenting a 7% decline from 16.40 billion minutes in the similar period last year.

The report breaks the trend in which telcos report increased preference to talk time and use of data on applications as WhatsApp.

The regulator’s data also show that mobile subscriptions also dipped by 16% to 38.85 million in the three months to March from 46.46 million posted in a similar period last year as many subscribers preferred cheaper SMS service.

Despite the report, Kenyans are calling more within the Airtel network than Safaricom and Telkom Kenya, a trend which CA attributes to cheaper call rates.

The increased talk-time within Airtel network has seen them bite Safaricom’s share of the voice market as the two bank on promotional call tariffs to win customers. Airtel’s share of voice market has jumped to 30.9% in the three months to March from 29.2% percent in a similar period to last December.

Safaricom share has declined to 65.7% from 67.1% in the similar period.

“Safaricom PLC recorded the lowest duration of calls for both on-net and off-net calls due to the high calling rates charged by the operator both within and across networks,” said CA.

But Safaricom has recorded the highest number of mobile in-ports at 208 while Airtel Networks Limited and Telkom Kenya Limited have recorded 41 and 16 in-ports respectively.

Local outgoing mobile voice traffic jumped by 2.3% during the third quarter, posting 15.3 billion minutes from 14.9 billion minutes posted in the last quarter.


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