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Mobile Still Growing in Kenya, But So Is Fraud

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Kenya, an already saturated mobile market, is still reporting total cellular subscriber growth, but it is also displaying some less welcome signs of a maturing market.

In the most recent publication of mobile industry statistics by the Communications Authority of Kenya, which cover the final three months of 2018, the statistics show sustained mobile growth but also highlight some worrying trends, including a notable increase in fraud.

The data released in the report highlighted the mixed nature of the Kenyan communications sector. On one hand, Kenya is showing signs of being a mature market -- for example the slowing growth in an already highly-penetrated mobile market and the contraction of fixed line user base.

On the other hand, there are still obvious signs of an emerging market, for example the low penetration of broadband connectivity.

The total number of mobile subscriptions grew by 2.9 million to reach 49.5 million, giving Kenya a mobile penetration of 106%. With an average multiple SIM ownership at about 30%, this would imply a real mobile subscriber of 38.1 million, or a real mobile subscriber penetration of 81.5%. Meanwhile, the total number of fixed subscriptions fell by 3 million to 65.4 million. When combined, Kenya suffered a net loss of about 147,000 telecom connections across the country.

When it comes to competition in the mobile sector, the market is rather stable, with Safaricom still dominating: Its market share is still over 60% while its main challenger Airtel has almost a quarter of the market. During the final quarter of 2018, however, signs that the market is highly competitive were clear to see, as although Safaricom saw some aggressive promotion result in a net gain of nearly 1.4 million subscriptions, it actually ceded about 1% market share to Airtel.

On the other hand, during the quarter Safaricom grew its post-paid subscription base by 47,000, while Airtel's reduced by about 8,700.

To look at the market another way, Safaricom's dominance in the post-paid market is almost absolute, serving 1.14 million post-paid subscriptions of the 1.24 million total (or 92%).

Another indicator that Kenya is still maturing is the resilience of SMS. In mature markets, and many emerging markets, SMS business, and the profits it can generate for operators, has been largely destroyed by OTT messaging services. But in Kenya, SMS usage, both on a total and on a per-user basis, actually went up in the final quarter of 2018, averaging 122.5 messages per subscription per month.

The total number of data subscriptions also registered a steady growth, increasing by 3.5 million during the three months to reach 45.7 million. The number of broadband subscriptions, which Kenya defines as connections at or above 256Kbit/s, increased by 1 million to reach 21.9 million, 48% of the total data subscriptions.

No discussion of Safaricom, or of the Kenyan mobile communication market, is credible without looking at the active mobile money market. Here again, Safaricom is dominant, in both the numbers of subscribers and agents and the value of transactions. When it comes to competition between the chasing pack, it must be worrying for Telkom that while its T-Kash has slightly more agents than Airtel Money, it is only serving a fraction of active subscriptions (3%) of the latter.

However, the greatest area of growth in Kenya is, unfortunately, in cybersecurity threats, which went up by 168% quarter-on-quarter to reach 10.2 million. Among all the attack types, malware registered the biggest increase, of 389%, while DDoS attacks dropped by half and web application attacks were down by a third.

— Wei Shi, Site Editor, Connecting Africa

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