A photo of on-demand wireless streaming service, Able Wireless appeared this morning on China’s Weibo signaling the firm is not giving up or slacking up on its dream of taking affordable Internet and video content to million sof homes in Kenya, East Africa’s largest economy.
If the picture is not just an amusement, Able Wireless will provide the much needed marriage between Internet and Content powering homes with both superfast internet and a selection of movies, TV series and news they have always wanted. Netflix would have been the defacto player when it launched in Kenya but it lacks broadband and most homes in Africa don’t have fibre to the home unlike other markets making it an expensive venture to homes with families but only good for singles or young couples.
Zuku, Wanainchi Group’s triple-play (TV, Internet and Phone) provider has some signifcant market share in urban areas but most customers feel cheated claiming the service is expensive and most of the Internet packages do not come in the speeds advertised. If Able Wireless doesn’t rip off its clients and signs up great content, its Ksh 500flat rate for Internet, movies and phone might make it King of these segment.
Like Zuku, Able Wireless told TechMoran in September 2014 that it plans to enter Kenya’s voice industry by harnessing VoIP services exclusively for its subscribers. Able Wireless co-founder and CEO Kahenya Kamunyu said his firm was looking at switching voice calls such as GoogleTalk, Facebook calls and others to link our users who are connected to a Wi-Fi network.
The Able Wireless device (which is being built in China) will come with an in-built microphone and camera to allow users call their friends via their TV screens. Though it was licensed as early as October 2014, Able Wireless has had its fair share government buearacracy. It even had to forgo its plans for a Kenyan assembly plant and sold their machinery after the government forced it to relocate the manufacture and assembly to China insead of doing them here.
Image courtsey of Weibo user Rabbit
In November 2014, the content delivery service recalled its set top boxes after a testing phase. The leaked photos, if true would prove that the firm has fine-tuned its new version of the decorders and ready to roll out to over 40,000 pre-orders it had recieved. Earlier, Able Wireless said it had signed a deal with 3 ISPs to supply them with internet and was signing up content providers day by day.
“Mobile phones have taught us we are not a wired market. The firms laying fiber will only take them to banks, hospitals and a majority will be left out. They will need Able Wireless. We are not a content provider. People knock in seeking us to distribute their content, some of these guys have prepared content already and also county TV stations are going to be many. There’s massive content that will need to be distributed. I was doubtful of that earlier but already we are near the quota of exceeding our content,” said Kamunyu.
Able Wireless says it’s network design is radically different from ordinary operator and is ready to provide an infrastructure for guys who can afford it. The platform aims to take content from it’s partners to everyone. If BRCK Education is the answer to digitizing classrooms in Kenya, then Able Wireless will be the answer to Kenya’s need for affordable Internet and film or movie content.
BRCK can connect a whole family to the Internet but at the moment it hasn’t ventured into entertainment content yet. Communities in the hard to reach areas are not tech savvy and need more awareness about the power of the Internet. Though the device is a gift to humanitarian organisations working in these areas as well as travellers and institutions.
However, the challenge for all the telcos is to reach this people and the government is setting up universal access funds to cater for this. Kenya Power & Lighting Co. also aims to venture into the Fibre to the Premise and Fibre to the Home business and the government aims to connect all its schools to the grid. That’s not the end, on their own, telcos like Airtel are trying hard to connect more people to broadband, and not just the social media happy middle-class. Liquid Telecom, though a wholesale carrier is also moving into retail and working on its own VoD service too. Safaricom is also working on version 2 of its TV set-top box and recently partnered with Vuclip allowing users to access video content on their mobile phones.
Participation is good for now, but the only providers who’ll have ROI will be those that satisfy their clients even if they only run 1 percent of the market.