Archive for April, 2010|Monthly archive page

Why I Will Not Use Zain’s Zap Again…..

This is a rant. Events occur in real time…..

Being that time of the month when bills are settled, and being very angry with a certain leading mobile network operator, who shall remain unnamed, I decided to send some money using Zain’s Zap money transfer service. Since I am supposed to be very organized, I get the cash and start the arduous task of locating a Zap dealer. You see the second largest mobile operator, Zain, almost 10 years in business, does not have very many agents for the money transfer service. From a second floor office, I am able to locate a few agents in downtown Nairobi.

I march gallantly to the first agent, an yes, they can serve me. Am so excited, especially when I remember how much I dislike the unnamed leading operator’s service. More on that later.

Since I registered for Zap about 3 months ago, I had never actually used the service and I can’t remember my PIN. So I quickly call Customer Support, who promptly pick my call…..that doesn’t happen in Kenya! The young man at the other end questions me to ascertin I am who I claim to be. He resets my PIN, and I quickly change it to ****. Awesome!

Back at the agent’s, I hand over the cash and we transact, now I have the electronic value in my SIM. I am jumping up and down. I fire off a quick text to the recipient, and tell him, please wait in a few seconds you will be Zap’ing rich.

The first attempt to send KES. 13,000 fails.  I try again, thinking I missed something, since this is the first time I am doing it. Again, I get a message about exceeding the limit of 5,000. Am stunned! Since am outside the agent’s shop, I go back in and ask about limits. Girl One tells me newly registered SIMS can only send/receive 5,000. I say I registered 3 months ago BUT have never transacted. The other Girl 2 says, that’s rubbish, you can send and receive any amount up to a max of 35,000. I agree with the second girl. The first says if I don’t agree with her, I try again. I try and get the same message. Am getting annoyed. Girl 1 suggests I send in 3 tranches – 5000, 5000, 3000 total 13,000. Mmmmmhhh….since the cost is only 10 per send transaction, I agree with her, pull a chair and start the motions.

The first 5,000 is off super fast, no delay. My confidence is restored in Zain. The second 5,000 bounces, something about the recipient’s account being over limit with electronic cash! I try again, and again. No luck. I even check my balance at a cost of 1/-, still at 8,000. Mmmm….

I remember Zain’s Customer Scare, sorry Care works and you can get through on the first attempt. I call, and some guy picks, I cry my heart out to him. He explains that my account limit is set to 5,000. I tell him that’s fine, could he make it 35,000?  No sir. He says he will put the request to the “technical people”, and I ask whether he can fast track that, so I can transact now. He says the “technical people” have gone for the day, so I have wait. I am stunned beyond words. I rant a bit, but cool off, telling him its not his fault. I finish saying I will never use Zap again. He courteously says, thank you for calling etc etc

Back at the agent’s I ask Girl 1, who is supposed to be most knowledgeable, what to do and she says unless the recipient withdraws the cash, we can’t send him more. I start shaking in anger, tears well up in my eyes. I cannot believe this. I pace around the shop thinking…and get a eureka! I ask to withdraw the 8,000 so I can send by parcel courier. It should get there in a couple of hours. Tough luck! The money I just gave them has been taken to the bank! OK, where is the next agent? They direct me, and am off.

The leading mobile operator, who still remains unnamed, seems to have agents all over, but I can’t transact with them right? I am angry with them. I walk all over trying to locate the next Zap agent, and voila! I spot one. Uh….they don’t have cash so we can’t transact. Fair enough, where is the next agent? I am directed and am off.

Third agent for the day, and yes, she has all the cash I need. I quickly withdraw, zap zap. No fuss. Am happy again as I walk towards the bus stage where the matatus to my village operate from. A text message lands in my phone. Recipient has had a brainwave! Why not send using ______ (the unnamed leading mobile operator in Kenya). I am almost hit by a speeding motorist as I jump and curse him.

Everywhere I look, I see the colour schemes of the unnamed leading operator. So I reluctantly walk into one agent and inquire whether the service is working. Yes sir. Can you serve me? Yes sir. Do you have electronic float? Yes sir. Are there any delays? No sir. Are you sure? Yes sir. Is the service down? No sir. I hand over the cash, and get the electronic value in my other SIM. I quickly fire it off to the recipient, who receives and acknowledges, by text. It worked!

That’s how I sent Zap using _____ (the unnamed leading mobile operator’s money transfer service).

Cc:  Zain / Zap Customer Care

Fibre Optic Cables and Internet Bandwidth in Kenya : The Basics, part II

As discussed in part I, Kenya and the East African countries, recently joined the rest of the world in high speed, limitless bandwidth connection. This is thanks to the sub-marine fibre optic cables landed at Mombasa. So the BIG question that arose, was, now what? Or so what?

In the digital global village, high speed connectivity heralds a new dawn, hitherto not possible due to the limited capacity connections we had. New breakthroughs emerge as the world is able to communicate in a faster and more reliable way, thanks to the technology now available. The technology itself is not new, but the availability is.

For a growing economy like ours, there are myriad ways we can cruise into this new information super highway, and lift ourselves and the standards of our living. I cannot even begin to exhaustively cover what is possible due to the connections we now have, its is too broad a subject. I shall endeavour to narrow it down to what I think is relevant for the Kenya of today.

The knowledge economy driven by digital erasing of geographical and intellectual boundaries, is ours to take. We can leapfrog other economies by adapting ourselves to the new world that is now knocking. We can create new industries, new jobs, increase our industrial and agricultural capacity all using this new age technology. We can improve our academics in schools and universities, tapping into knowledge bases in far off countries. Our doctors can collaborate with colleagues across the globe and deliver better health care.

Our governemnt can take services online and enable its “customers” efficiently transact and consume services better. We can sell our farm produce in far off markets from the comfort of our farm houses. There is no limit to what we can do.


1. Applications Development – Software developers are having a field day. The new connectivity is bringing in lots of possibilities to create, test and deploy new software. Web applications, mobile applications, and freelancing are all happening at the speed of light. They have access to immense databases of source code, the DNA that software is made of. This access at high speeds means they can adapt the source code for our specific needs. This shortens the software development life cycle. They can collaborate with like-minded individuals across the globe and enhance their skills. The possibilities here are limitless. Is anyone taking advantage?

2. Outsourcing – There are tremendous opportunities in business process outsourcing, popularly known as BPO. This is where specialist companies are formed to take over the non-core, back office work of other corporations. This leaves the BPO’s customers to concentrate on their core businesses. The possibilities here are only limited to our innovation and industriousness. Other business opportunities lie in contact centres. Recently several of the mobile network operators have outsourced their customer care business to contact centres. This leaves them to manage their core business. Other opportunities lie in cloud computing, Software-as-a-Service, Platform-as-a-Service, Infrastructure-as-a-Service, data centres, and dedicated, ICT-centric free economic zones (FEZs) and software technology parks (STPs). The technology, know how, financing, skilled manpower are all available. We however, need proper enabling legislation to propel these new age business. Then entrepreneurs can step in and start their ventures.

3. Academics – An initiative based at Kenyatta University known as Africa Virtual University is laudable. Using high speed links, there has been academic collaboration across the continent. The bandwidth now available should enhance this venture further. Whole digital libraries are now available. The largest library on earth, the US Library of Congress has a mind-boggling digital collection, and can be accessed by any authorized person with a computer and high-speed internet connection. We can also digitise our volumes and have them accessed by other people. Academic video on demand, streaming video from content servers strewn across the globe, live video feed from lectures or class sessions across the globe are all distinct possibilities. The only limit, our speed of adapting to these possibilities. Other countries are not waiting.

4. Business and Trade – Trade and commerce enters a whole new dimension. New markets, research, bidding and competition are enabled in ways we have never seen before. E-commerce is on the rise. A distinct attraction is SMEs face low barriers to entry into the word of e-commerce. Business alliances are being formed electronically across the globe, and new markets open up daily.

5. Government – With e-government initiatives, efficient services, higher revenue collection, rapid results can be achieved at low cost. Kenya Revenue Authority’s initiatives in this area are a case in point. It is commendable that there is genuine work in this direction for various governemnt departments. Video conferencing can drastically reduce travel costs and achieve more efficient meetings. We need to study how other governments have done it.

6. Telecommuting – This woud have the most significant effect on socio-economic progress in our country. As rural-urban migration puts pressure on resources in cities the pressure is on. Telecommuting can cut down wastage in non-essential travel, better utilization of time and skills, multi-tasking, use of video-conferencing for meetings, collaborative webinars, conference calls… the list is endless. We need new labour laws, we need to re-think the whole work scene. People should be able to work from anywhere they can connect, so long as their work does not need physical presence at their work place.

I have just scratched the surface above, and the list can go on and on. We need new work ethic, innopvate new ideas, get the legislature to enact new laws to ensure smooth working of the new digital age economy.

In part III, we discuss the flip side. Risks, security, theft, moral decadence, criminal activities….Yes all these come hand in hand with the sweet revolution. Every sweet smelling rose comes with thorns, I think.

Let me have your feedback below.

Fibre Optic Cables and Internet Bandwidth in Kenya : The Basics, part I

This is fibre optic cables 101. The basics, introduction, definitely not for the experts. Read on if you are, or not.

I always use the analogy of a water pipe to try and describe the much-talked about fibre optic cables and bandwidth. It is until we understand what the basics are, that we can begin to get a clue on what the fuss is all about. Then we shall fully embrace the potential that we are sitting on as a country.

Imagine we have water pipes running from a fresh water well to our homes. The well has an inexhaustible supply of water, so the only limit to the quantity of water flowing into your home is the size of the pipe delivering the water. You are at liberty to connect a pipe(s) of whatever size, depending on your needs and ability. The size or quantity of the pipes used do not matter, the well cannot run out of water. Also understand that the need for water in your home is essential, whatever the you use it for.

In the Kenya of yester years, we had “small, limited capacity” pipes to connect us to the rest of the world (or well). These pipes carried data (or Internet) and voice traffic from Kenya to the well. The pipes were used to take care of all bi-directional traffic into/out of Kenya. The “pipe capacity” is what is called “bandwidth”, and in the past we used satellites (or small, limited capacity pipes) to connect us to the world (or the well as described above).

After alot of twiddling of fingers, hand wringing, foot dragging and general indecison, we managed to lay bigger “pipes” from Mombasa to various parts of the world, by inter-connecting with existing bigger “pipes” regionally.

The only thing that has changed is now we have bigger capacity pipes (called sub-marine or undersea fibre optic cables) from three suppliers, i.e. Seacom, TEAMS and Eassy. All these bandwidth suppliers are selling their bandwidth capacity to resellers, called Internet Service providers (or ISPs). The ISPs then further resell the bandwidth to you and me, the consumer. Do not worry about the complex technology connecting you and the world, that is not important, for now.

Note: They are called “submarine” or “undersea” cables because from Mombasa the cables are laid on the seabed all the way to the inter-connection points farther afield.

The immediate effect of this limitless capacity is we should now, theoretically, be able to have faster and cheaper connections to the world. Our international voice calls should be clearer, without static or the annoying delay. Our Internet experience should be richer, faster and we should be able to access bandwidth-intensive applications like streaming video with no delay. Downloads should be faster, saving us time and money. Uploads should be faster, saving us time and money. Anything interactive, like video-conferencing, should be a breeze.

NOTE: I keep saying “should”, because the reality for you and me may not be any different from the recent past.

OK, now you ask, so what? What is the big deal? Why all the fuss? So what if we have superb speeds due to the limitless bandwidth? How does this change my life, or yours? How does it change my grandmother’s life, back in my village? How does it change the small or the big commercial farmer’s life? Or the student, or politician, or small or big business owner? Or the matatu owner, or priest in your church? Or the government hospital or the goverment? Now that we have an almost limitless bandwidth capacity, what does it really mean for the ordinary Internet user like you and me?

Will this capacity create jobs? Change the economy? How? When? What has been the impact / experience in other countries? Could this be another over-hyped technological farce?

Worry not, I will hold your hand and walk you through this. This will form part II of our discussion.

Let me have your feedback below.