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The Evolution & Growth of Airtel in Kenya

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Bharti Airtel or commonly Airtel is one of world’s top telecommunications services providers with operations in 20 countries across Asia and Africa. Launched in Kenya in 2000 as Kencell and rebranded to Zain in 2008 and finally Airtel in 2010, Airtel aims to connect communities across Kenya by providing affordable, relevant and innovative mobile solutions to all.

The company enables people the freedom to achieve their goals; “Our customers will experience the same familiar brand and enjoy the same quality of service, reliability, innovation and affordability wherever they live, work or travel”, says its managing director, Shivan Bhargava who has been spearheading transformation of the organization over the last 3 years, adding that “Our people are driven and committed to deliver relevant and innovative mobile solutions to help customers overcome their daily challenges.”

Airtel network covers more than 85% of the population and is targeting to reach 95% in the next 15 months. The company has invested about Kesh.9billion in support of network expansion and penetration in urban and rural Kenya for voice, internet services and mobile commerce including the launch of Airtel Money and the state of world class 3.75G data network in the last two and half years.

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Driving the turnaround

Shivan Bhargava has led the turn-around of the Kenya operation into a profitable business over the last three years and built a strong foundation for sustainable growth into the future with innovative services and Airtel Money.

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Airtel Kenya has gone from strength to strength while maintaining and evolving its strong customer values and competitive services since 2010. “We have shown our ambition and drive with a 17% share of the highly competitive and lucrative telecommunications market in Kenya, turning the company into profitability with positive EBITDA for the first time in 14 years.

The growth can be attributed to two key factors: highly trained and committed staff offering superior customer service and the company’s innovative and competitive products.

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Mr. Bhargava noted that Airtel takes pride in training its staff to be all that they can be and to give its customers the perfect experience in its products and services. Secondly, it offers its subscribers quality competitive products and services that enable them achieve more in their daily lives.

Growth driven by data and e-Commerce solutions

Access to the internet has become universal and essential for all people and Airtel recognizes that offering affordable and quality internet access is key to enabling customers achieve more in their daily lives, for both personal and business development.

With the launch of its 3.75G platform in February 2012, Airtel introduced the fastest mobile internet in Kenya, offering its customers the latest global High Speed Packet Access (HSPA) plus technology with up to 21 Mbps speed which is the same as that being rolled out in Europe and the USA, and is currently available in all the major towns in Kenya. It is the fastest 3G available and has been enormously beneficial for a variety of internet and data users including large Corporates, small or medium businesses and the youth.

The company offers daily, weekly and monthly data bundles that enable its customers to embrace a highly mobile way of working with high speed access to email and internet  and get more of their favorite downloads, music, movies and to interact on the social media online.

Airtel will be rolling out its data network across all of Kenya with the objective of building the fastest and largest 3G network across the country, and will continue to provide useful and innovative services to make use of this new technology.

Airtel Money

Airtel Money was launched in August 2011. The Airtel money mobile commerce platform offers a simple, easy to use customer friendly access menu that makes it faster and convenient for customers and dealers to carry out transactions. The platform provides consumers with a robust offering of products that cuts across mobile banking, service payments, airtime top up and money transfer services.

Airtel Money currently has more than 10,000 agents countrywide and the number is expected to grow to 15,000 by the end of the year. The vast dealer network has now been complimented by corporate agents to enhance availability and reliability of the services countrywide. These include Posta, Uchumi Supermarkets, Pep Intermedius (Nakumatt), Tuskys, Muramati Sacco, Housing Finance, Cooperative Bank and Faulu Bank.

Customers can also withdraw money from their Airtel Money accounts at any Pesa Point and Family bank ATMs countrywide without needing an ATM card giving Airtel Money a strong countrywide presence to the benefit of its customers. Customers can also pay for fuel at any total Petrol Station using Airtel Money.

The secure superior quality, affordable and convenient Airtel Money service is fast becoming the preferred way to send and receive money across networks and to pay bills as its customers do not need to pay to pay their regular bills as they have access to free pay bill services for bills to Nairobi Water, Kenya Power, DStv and KAPS parking charges amongst other payment services. Its fully automated process provides customers with a convenient, fast, secure and reliable mode of payment.

The Company has partnered with several Banks in Kenya in order to offer convenience through innovative mobile banking solutions to its customers using its Airtel Money M-commerce solution. Through the partnerships, customers on Airtel Money are able to transfer money from their bank accounts to their phones and use it for payments to other individuals, purchases and bill payments. They are also able to deposit and send cash from Airtel Money agents available throughout the country.

Recently, Airtel partnered with Visa & Chase Bank to provide Airtel Money subscribers with an Airtel Money Visa card, a first in the world.  The card allows Airtel money subscribers to withdraw money from their Airtel Money accounts at over 1.8 million VISA ATM’s worldwide and shop and pay for goods and services using Airtel Money at over 30 million visa accepted merchant stores worldwide. This product has enabled the expansion of agents in the rural areas and urban centers while at the same time brought convenience to customers on their daily lives.

Mobile Virtual Network Operators (MVNOs) strategy

Airtel recently opened a new chapter in the telecoms industry in Kenya with the announcement that it will host three Mobile Virtual Network Operators, (MVNOs) on its Kenyan Network.

This follows the announcement by the Communications Authority of Kenya, (CAK) on Friday 14th April 2014 through its director general Francis Wangusi, that it had licensed Equity Bank, through its subsidiary Finserve Africa Limited, Zioncell Kenya Limited, a technology company that provides mobile value added services to mobile network operators, and Mobile Pay Limited which runs the Tangaza mobile money transfer service to operate as the first MVNOs in Kenya.

The MVNO services will run on the unused capacity on its network, ensuring that it maintains seamless quality experience to consumers.

This new innovation reaffirms the position of the company as an innovative leader pioneering new frontiers in the Kenyan Telecoms Industry.

Airtel Kenya managing director Shivan Bhargava lauded the CAK for the bold move commenting that “The launch of MVNOs is in line with Airtel Kenya’s innovation and differentiation agenda. We believe that the entry of the MVNOs into the market will stimulate and sustain overall market growth through a new range of innovative products and service propositions that will give more choice and value to Kenyans. Additionally, their entry into the market will increase the uptake of mobile services key segments such as mobile commerce and data thereby accelerating the inclusion of all Kenyans into the mobile revolution for sustained economic development of the country.”

Airtel Express Shops

Airtel Kenya this year has rolled out new ultra-modern Airtel Xpress shops. The new outlets provide a range of services ranging from Airtel data settings, Airtel Money, post-paid activation, bill payments, selling of prepaid lines, airtime, modems and handset sales.  Airtel customers get to enjoy discounts on various handsets and access to all of Airtel’s new range of products and offers as part of the celebration of unveiling the new outlet.

Airtel Mobile Units

The Airtel Mobile Units were was launched on September 2012. Offering tailor-made product and services targeting acquisition and retention of customers, the mobile communication vehicles units crisscross the vast urban and rural terrains in pursuit of customer service excellence.

Simply put, these units are basically offering “Agents on Wheels” services whereby customers and prospective customers are able to carry out Airtel services as if they would be at an Airtel or Airtel agent shop, including money deposits and withdrawals on Airtel Money.

The mobile units are spread out across all regions in the country going as far and wide as Hola in Tana River to the more urbanized areas such as Nairobi city. Aside from just benefiting from the services provided to the customers, local folk also have the chance to be entertained as the mobile units drive through the rural towns literally painting them red.

Sponsorships; Airtel Rising Stars

Airtel Rising Stars (ARS) was launched in 2011 in conjunction with Manchester United Football Club of England. The tournament focuses on identifying and nurturing budding soccer talent from the grassroots onto the national stage.

The ARS program is designed to provide a structured platform for scouts, coaches, football authorities and other partners to tap into a vast pool of upcoming talent, courtesy of the program and build strong soccer talent feeder systems for our league and national teams.

It has provided an opportunity for us to connect and empower communities through the passion football elicits from fans and the ability of players to learn and eke a living from the sport

The Airtel Rising Stars is an Africa-wide program that will provide a platform for upcoming soccer talent under the age of seventeen to showcase their skills to leading scouts, coaches and have an opportunity to further their football skills.  In Kenya, the initiative targets boys and girls in secondary schools across the country.

We run this program in partnership with the Kenya Secondary Schools Sports Association (KSSA) in Kenya.

In 2012 the Airtel Rising Stars was awarded the best Sponsorship Campaign 2012 by the Public Relations Society of Kenya.

Kenya was the host nation of the hugely successful 2012 ARS intra-Africa championships, besides hosting the Manchester United Soccer Schools clinic.

Airtel in the community

Our engagement in the development of education in Kenya is in line with Bharti Airtel’s Corporate Social Responsibility vision to uplift the standard of living in the communities through the improvement of infrastructure in the institutions, ensuring access to better quality education for the students and communities in general.

Airtel has assisted the following schools in the country in line with “Our School” Corporate Social Responsibility initiative.

  • Nyamira Girls High School in Bondo where we provided computers
  • Kimuchu Primary School in Thika Municipality with a computer lab
  • Kipeto Primary School in Kajiado with the rehabilitation of a classroom

Airtel recently partnered with the British Council, Microsoft and the Ministry of Education to deliver education more effectively in Kenyan communities. This we intend to achieve by establishing digital hubs that will have connectivity and provide access to learning materials for teachers and students in a safe and comfortable learning environment. The partnership formed a key part of our commitment to enrich lives, not only by providing affordable communications services, but also reaching out to teachers and students in need of technology to better their lives.

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Sam Wakoba
Sam Wakoba
Taking you on tour through Africa's tech and business ecosystem, one story at a time since 2010! Based out of Nairobi, Kenya, Sam is the founder and managing director of Moran Media, which runs, various other digital platforms and a startup incubation hub for Kenya's youthful entrepreneurs. Drop me a mail at [email protected]

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