Safaricom is in the process of installing and providing data services to matatus in Kenya. The public service vehicles will provide free WiFi to commuters through Safaricom WiFi modems installed in the vehicles. So far, more than 20 vehicles plying several routes within Nairobi including Rongai, Kayole and BuruBuru have been covered.
The first month of the program will provide the service at no cost to the matatus. Safaricom is conducting a survey in a bid to determine what pricing to charge subsequently. At the moment, the cost is placed at about KSh. 1,500 per vehicle per month, though Safaricom is expected to clarify the pricing soon.
The move has been well met by matatu crew and commuters. The crew feel that provision of free WiFi gives their matatu a higher street credibility and gets them more commuters compared to competitors. Already, vehicles that have the service installed on them are being preferred by commuters, especially young, savvy commuters who own data enabled phones.
Safaricom is probably looking at driving smartphone adoption through the move as consumers might opt for the devices after observing them being used in their commute. During announcement of their annual results, Safaricom said that it had 2.3 million 3G phones on the network of which only 1.2 million are smartphones.The move will also come as a relief to commuters who often spend more than an hour on rush hour commutes.
According to Communication Commission of Kenya (CCK) statistics, Safaricom commands 72.6 percent of mobile data connections. In turn, mobile data subscriptions account for 99 percent of total Internet connections in the country as of December 2012.
The firm however needs to educate commuters and matatu crew on some of the services that they can use on the Internet connections. A number of the crew were not aware of what other services they can utilise, such as Mixcrate for streaming music. One of the matatus had however connected a Smart TV fitted in the vehicle to the WiFi and was streaming music on the TV.
Other issues likely to arise include rising phone thefts especially targeting matatu commuters. A number of city roads such as Haile Selassie avenue are notorious for phone snatching from criminals pretending to be pedestrians. In addition, criminals have also been targeting matatus for hijacking and pick pocketing. On May 1, thugs armed with knives commandeered a route 34 matatus during the day where they asked commuters to leave their phones and wallets when alighting.
So far, there's little that can be done to recover stolen phones. The process is bureaucratic and heavily relies on police officers who are reported to be unreliable and often demand bribes for recovery of devices.
Safaricom's provision of services targeting the matatu sector marks the second telecommunications firm to do so after Google's BebaPay payment card.