The 4G (Fourth generation) of Mobile telecommunications technology, a successor to the 3G, is probably one of the dreams come true to most data handlers. This advanced system for mobile networks promises faster data speeds and better quality in terms of browsing experience for customers.
The Safaricom 4G experience, which was launched in December 2014 making it the first mobile operator in the Sub-Saharan region to launch the 4G technology, last week announced a roll-out of the network across the country in over seven major towns. Safaricom became the first operator in Kenya in the year 2003 to roll out mobile data on the 2G platform; and five years later, was again the first to launch its 3G platform.
The 4G network which was initially available in some parts of Nairobi and Mombasa when first released will now deepen the browsing experience for Safaricom customers in Nairobi, Mombasa, Kisumu, Nakuru, Eldoret, Meru and Kisii. Safaricom Head of Customer Segments Charles Karre said that this is a big bet in terms of data growth and an assurance of better speeds for the customers. These 4G initiatives will also cement the country’s position as a regional mobile innovation powerhouse and positions Kenya as one of Africa’s leading markets with fast, affordable broadband internet.
The telco did however face a number of challenges in getting customers to fully take the advantages that come with the 4G network.
One of them is the fact that the network was initially present only in two major towns in the country, and the network wasn’t even in all parts of these towns, these customers would only enjoy the 4G experience up to various parts of these two cities. Sylvia Mulinge, Director of Customer Business at Safaricom said that as per the announcement of the company’s full year results in May, they have experienced a 77 percent increase in mobile data usage per customer, with overall smartphone ownership more than doubling.
There was also the challenge faced of most customers’ devices lacking the 4G capability. Safaricom had just rolled out the 3G network so only very few customers had access to 4G capable devices. Safaricom has however made a sizable investment in putting up an additional 500 4G base stations before the end of the year. The expanded rollout will bring the firm’s 3G and 4G footprint to more than 4,600 sites.
To add on to that, most customers couldn’t afford the devices with 4G capability. The prices of these devices have however significantly reduced and the company also has a number of devices that are optimized for the 4G experience, including the Neon Turbo 7 and the Samsung Z2.
4G enabled SIM cards were also an issue that the company faced. Most cards were 3G enabled and most customers were still being introduced to the 3G experience in most parts of the country. The company has however began offering free SIM swap services to its customers. Available in their service centres and most of their M-Pesa agents, one can get a free 4G enabled SIM card. Right now, Safaricom is also giving away free data when one buys a 4G SIM card.
Another issue raised was the intensively high usage of data with the 4G network. With faster speeds and greater quality in terms of content for example HD videos, comes a greater consumption of data. This has pulled away a number of subscribers who had preferred using 3G and the other networks to reduce data consumption.
Speaking on this Julius Kundu, Safaricom Senior Manager of Data and Messaging said that they have now introduced 4G specific bundles that will allow customers to engage in better browsing with the 4G network without consuming a large portion of data. This will also bring customers to a place where there won’t be the need to hunt for a Wi-Fi hotspot to carry out whatever work they needed to do. They want to bring that same experience at the palm of your hands.
Safaricom has also implemented a 36% reduction in data pricing even as it continues its investment in building the most advanced 2G, 3G and 4G capability. Customers can now purchase a weekly 4G 200 MB data bundle at only Kshs. 99 while monthly 4G data bundles will be priced as low as Kshs. 1,499 for a 5 GB data bundle.
Customers on 4G can do more with five times faster internet speeds that guarantee buffer-free, crystal-clear videos and music streaming, faster social media uploads and instant downloads.
With this, they recently introduced My Data Manager, which allows users to manage how their data is used. Customers can dial *544# to access My Data Manager.
Customers upgrading to 4G will also be rewarded with a free 4GB bundle for them to experience the technology and the speeds it delivers.
To check if you have a 4G enabled SIM card, dial *544# and select “Safaricom 4G Bundles and SIM Check”.