Nairobi commuters get WIFI in public service vehicles


(Posted 15th June 2013)

Kenya’s leading mobile company, Safaricom, has yesterday launched another innovation, when they introduced WIFI for commuters in their ‘matatus’, a widely used form of transport by Kenyans not owning cars or not wanting to sit in the notorious traffic jams wasting their own petrol.

According to information received from Nairobi, some 20 commuter vehicles have already installed a router through which passengers can now connect through their 3G enabled smart phones or tablets, staying connected with friends on Facebook or ranting about traffic problems on Twitter.

Many Kenyans commute long distances into the city for work in the morning and back home in the evening, spending hours at end sitting almost idle, unless for a chance conversation with a fellow passenger. That has now turned into more productive time for those with the right devices at hand, as they can use the commute time to do their social network chatter, or for those more business minded start reading emails and responding even before they get to the office.

The service is expected to spread like wildfire among the tens of thousands of such commuter vehicles, as passenger preference will be clear, they board a bus with WIFI more readily than one without.

The pressure is now on too for the tourism industry, as one stakeholder already put it to this correspondent in an overnight mail: ‘If the wananchi can access WIFI in the matatus, it is only a matter of time before tour companies, even taxi operators, have to follow suit. When we take tourists from the airport to the hotel, you can already see how they fidget with their phones looking for a signal. When they go on safari, they take pictures and even videos with their smart phones. Then they are stuck because they cannot upload there and then to share their impressions with friends at home. For us in Kenya, this innovation can be crucial to get a marketing advantage over other destination in the region. If our safari vehicles and tour busses offer such connectivity, we will be leading from the front. Our tourists will market Kenya with the pictures they post on Facebook or on Twitter and the videos they send to YouTube. They will be our brand ambassadors the entire time they are in Kenya because we can keep them connected while they are in our cars. This is a great thing happening’.

When raising the issue with my transfer driver on arrival in Kigali yesterday evening, he said:’ You mean this is possible now? Here we pick our signal from MTN Hotspots or you buy a local SIM card and buy a data bundle. Many tourists do that. But if these tourists come across from Kenya where they find this service they might demand it here too. Maybe MTN or TIGO or Airtel here can do the same because here in Rwanda we believe we are ICT leaders in East Africa and should not be left behind’.

With Safaricom in Kenya now launching this service, the pressure is on for other operators in Kenya to follow suit, and for other countries in the East African region to equally embrace such new technology to stay competitive through innovation. Watch this space.

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