iHub community was privileged enough to host the C.E.O of Safaricom, Bob Collymore, and his top management team at a fireside chat held within the space on 12th January 2012.Bob Collymore has held this post for the past year and it was exciting to hear from him on his journey and experiences at the helm of one of Kenya’s largest companies, as well as engage him in a Q&A session.
Previously having worked at various telecommunication companies and lately Vodafone, Mr. Collymore brought with him a hoard of experience, gleaned from around the world, to Safaricom. He has worked in countries such as Japan, whose telecommunications sector is comparative to Kenya’s on the basis that people access the internet mainly via mobile devices. He has also worked in South Africa and he commented that in his opinion, Kenya has a more vibrant technology market.
Mr. Collymore mentioned some of Safaricom’s successes such as the Safaricom Academy, which produces 30 graduates a year and in which they have invested17 million Kshs. He also admitted that they had fallen short as a company in terms of innovation and admitted that the company as well as the Safaricom Innovation Board could do more.
During the Q&A session a number of questions arose regarding to the famous service from Safaricom, M-PESA, as well as access to their infrastructure. Bob Collymore and team managed to give great insight into some of Safaricom’s strategy and focus in these areas. A few of these are highlighted below.
According to Safaricom, there are15 million users of the M-PESA platform and it is barely able to handle the volume of transactions made over it. Previously, the platform had a capacity of handling70 transactions per second but with time Safaricom had to upgrade it to process200 per second. The platform could barely handle the250 transactions per second that were made on Christmas eve. Currently, the platform is hosted in Germany and redundant in the UK and there are plans to move the platform to be hosted locally, in about 18 months. Regardless, Bob Collymore said that there was a need to do an overhaul and build a new system. For these reasons, it is technically not possible to release their API to developers.
Access to infrastructure:
Safaricom spends about 2.5% revenue in marketing and invests 25 billion in infrastructure roll out per annum. In terms of access to this infrastructure, the team from Safaricom assured the community that the Service DeliveryPlatform(SDP) was currently undergoing internal trials and would soon be available to developers who could then build relevant apps on it to be offered on the app store. Safaricom also has plans to make the information layer accessible.
On the issue of Network capabilities, Bob Collymore stated that there is still a lot more gains to be obtained from the 3G network supported by about1600 3G base stations. While the network may be LTE ready, Safaricom would like to fully utilize the potential created by the 4.5 million data-enabled handsets they have sold, only a million of which are 3G phones.
With over 170,000 android phones sold by Safaricom in the market, there has been an increase in the data traffic on the network and Safaricom understands that it needs to address while improving real-time services. Their focus is shifting to subsidizing more smart phones and increasing revenue from data as the Average Revenue Per User (ARPU) was generally low elsewhere (voice and sms services), something mirrored in the wider Africa region.
As half of their network is not internet ready, Safaricom is also giving focus to aspects of digital inclusion and especially in the sectors of m-health, m-agriculture and m-education. Safaricom has partnered with medical professionals to provide valuable services to citizens and is also working with digital villages to equip them to deliver more services of value in other sectors.
iHub developers requested for a sandbox from Safaricom in which to build applications such as USSD, SMS and voice based apps and test in simulated real life situations. While matters relating to IP and revenue share still remain thorny issues, Bob Collymore hopes that the visit to iHub is the first step in trying to create an ecosystem of engagement and increased interactivity between developers and Safaricom in order to generate more revenue and provide better more valuable services to their now18 million mobile subscribers. Moreover, the iHub community will be pleased to know that from February 1, 2012, Safaricom will be providing a 10Mb redundant link to the space.