Kenya’s ICT sector future outlook

October 16, 2016

Kenya’s ICT sector has been highly publicised globally largely because of a British Citizen innovation called M-Pesa that he deemed fit to pioneer in Kenya with Britain’s global tele operator Vodafone which owns Safaricom, East Africa’s most profitable company by a mile.Information and communications technology connectivity in Kenya as a growing economy faces huge challenges in preparing for the future. The East Africa’€™s largest economy with a population of nearly 48 million requires substantial investments in domestic ICT infrastructure and international connectivity to meet the strong growing demand from the private and public sectors. New technologies require an ICT infrastructure with sufficient capacity. Reliable interconnection with other East Africa Community member countries to remain competitive in the interconnected world is another aspect of why ICT should be considered a priority sector. Two years ago, the Kenyan government unveiled a broadband connectivity plan in order to boost economic growth. The plan defines broadband development in Kenya and sets the strategy and major milestones for the coming years.The main purposes of broadband development are to encourage economic growth and increase the competitiveness of the nation, to support the improvement of human development and to safeguard the sovereignty of the nation.For Kenya ICT sector to fully develop, there several indicators that must remain constant, such as the political and regulatory environment, the business and innovation environment, infrastructure and digital content, affordability, skills, individual usage, business usage, government usage, economic impacts and social impact. To attract local and foreign investments a more business friendly environment is required in Kenya. The business society in particular is demanding a fight against corruption, the cutting of red tape, infrastructure development and the improvement of the tax system. The same applies, of course, for the Kenyan ICT sector. To meet the requirements and keep pace with international developments, including connectivity to other East Africa Community member countries, the broadband connectivity plan, which describes the path to the right direction, should be implemented in the given timeframe.

Additional considerations, recommendations and implications related to ICT development in Kenya need several issues addressed such as addressing the broadband connectivity plan, educational and training skills, including English language skills, should be enhanced by connecting schools to the Internet and implementing e-Education and e-Learning programs. Competence centers consisting of experts from academia and the private sector should be established to boost research and development in Kenya. In a modern technology infrastructure, state of the art data centers for public use e.g. national and international telecommunications operators and companies are required in major cities like Nairobi, Nakuru, Mombasa, Kisumu and Eldoret and business centers, taking into consideration environmental risks e.g. earthquakes, floods that are synonymous with Western region of the country, landslides that are common in Kenya, redundancy aspects such a backups and disaster recovery, security like access, surveillance and stable power and professional operations.Cross sector infrastructure sharing reduces costs. Ducts, towers, masts, power grids, facilities among others can be shared between the telecommunications, the energy and the transportation sectors. For public-private partnership opportunities identify and classify infrastructure development and new public service provisions that will improve ICT usage and convergence in Kenya such as increased Internet penetration, improved mobile services, improved opportunities for convergence and content development to mention but a few. Beside manufacturing of ICT products, promoting niche markets or new technologies and trends like mobile apps, Green ICT, IT outsourcing, hosting services, enterprise private clouds, 4G, Internet of Things, Machine to Machine communications, Call Centers among others need to be considered.International development and trends in the ICT sector should be observed to ensure harmonisation of policies and regulations including cross sector regulation. For international connectivity, Kenya is depending on international submarine cables, most of them currently routed via Indian waters.

New submarine cables with diverse routes are planned for the coming years. For example, the Middle East – East Africa submarine cable will connect Mombasa in Kenya as the new additional gateway.Redundancy and diverse routing of submarine cables is important to protect connectivity against terrorist attacks, sabotage and cable cuts by natural disasters such as seaquakes or by anchors.The announcement of the Kenyan government for the formation of the a cyber agency is a step in the right direction. With regard to cyber-attacks, Kenya is ranked as one of the Africa’€™s top three targets. The agency should be able to develop and implement strategies for the defence against rising cyber-attacks to protect Internet users, the government, financial services institutions and other businesses, including sensitive sectors like the transportation and the energy sectors. Strengthening the awareness of the public about privacy and cybercrime committed through e-mail scams, SMS or social media should be another focus area of the agency. On behalf of consumers, the government of Kenya should ensure that the service quality of telecommunications operators improves and minimum international accepted quality of service standards are enforced and regular monitored for all segments such as fixed, mobile, Internet and broadcasting services. With currently more than 38 million SIM cards issued to users, mobile is the main access to the Internet. €œLast mile and in-house cabling are very often bottlenecks for high speed landline data connections. Even if the fiber optic backbones of the telecommunications operators allow high speed data, cable connections between the exchanges of the operators and campuses or buildings of the consumers are often old and faulty copper cables that do not allow high speed data transfer. The telecommunications cabling on campuses and in buildings is mostly the sole responsibility of the landlords in cities like Nairobi and Mombasa where companies like Zuku have been working on providing broadband television services.With its young population, Kenya has a market potential of about 48 million consumers. Taking the right measures, considering the actual international development and best practice experiences in the global ICT sector, Kenya has a realistic chance to strengthen its national ICT sector in the coming years and so play an equal role in the very competitive Africa and World markets.

Contador Harrison