For a long time now, Airtel Kenya has been playing catch up with the market leader, Safaricom. In the latest industry report by the Communications Authority of Kenya (CA), Airtel emerged the biggest winner, gaining 2.7 percentage points to lift its market share to 19.7 percent as both Safaricom and Telkom Kenya registered drops.
The latest gain means that between the fourth quarter of 2016-2017 and the second quarter of 2017-2018, Airtel has gained market share by 4.4 percentage points to hit 19.7 percent while Safaricom has lost 5.6 percentage points to close at 67 percent. Airtel recorded a massive 44 percent rise in local voice traffic to 3.6 billion minutes from 2.5 billion minutes recorded during the previous quarter as that of Safaricom dropped. The CA says “This increase is attributed to the additional 1.3 million mobile subscriptions gained by the operator during the period under review.” Telkom Kenya Limited recorded a 4.4 percent decline in local mobile voice traffic to 581.7 million minutes leading to a drop in its voice market share from 5.2 percent to 4.6 percent.
This competition is set to heat up further following Airtel’s launch of their 4G network to match Safaricom and Telcom which launched theirs in 2014 and June last year respectively. “We believe we have launched our 4G service at the most opportune time, especially now that many customers have access to more 4G enabled handsets and devices,” CEO Prasanta Das Sarma said during the launch.
“Smartphones are largely used to access video on demand, online markets, games, music, news and social media sites. However, they are an increasingly essential tool to access financial products and a huge variety of useful services,” observed the CA.
Airtel has been aggressive in marketing its services, allowing customers to top up airtime from Safaricom’s M-Pesa courtesy of its partnership with Pesapal, a digital payment solution. According to the communications watchdog, the shift in market share is a result of many variables which may require further analysis.
Many analysts are quick to point out that Safaricom’s dominance hinges on the success of its mobile money platform, M-Pesa. Many Kenyans agree, pointing out that data, calls and SMS rates on Airtel and Telkom are much more affordable than Safaricom’s, but they still stay and endure because of M-PESA. The industry is trying out mobile money interoperability that commenced in April and which might hand Airtel a lifeline. Its impact, the CA said, will be captured in the next report covering April to June.
A more comprehensive breakdown can be found here.