burgeoning kenyan mobile market gets fourth operator

Orange is extending its footprint in Africa, one of the world’s fastest growing telecoms markets. France Telecom has announced that it will be launching a nationwide GSM network in Kenya, following the acquisition of a majority shareholding in incumbent operator Telecom Kenya. This is the fourth nationwide GSM network in Kenya, and both mobile and fixed networks will be branded Orange. The launch of cellular services means Orange becomes Kenya’s first fully integrated fixed line, mobile and Internet provider.

Kenya, located in East Africa and home to 37 million people is an important regional hub for trade and finance. The government has been targeting inward investment, particular in the form of offshore outsourcing. To support the move into the hi-tech service economy, communications with the rest of the world are receiving a boost. For instance, sub-sea cables are being laid to the United Arab Emirates and the East Africa Submarine Cable System will link East and Southern Africa to the rest of the world.

Like many African countries, mobile communications dominate fixed line. There are around 12 million mobile subscribers in Kenya, about a one-third market penetration, so while growing rapidly, there is plenty of room for further growth. Fixed wireless services are also doing well; Orange Kenya has around 200,000 subscribers to its limited mobility CDMA service. This brings mobile networks to rural villages but does not supporting roaming between cells so it’s a bit like supercharged DECT. Enterprises will be interested to know that there is also significant investment in nationwide backbones and WiMAX access networks. So with lots of competition between operators, investment in new networks, there’s ample evidence that Kenya has become of the continents most dynamic telecom markets.

Orange’s $390m purchase of a controlling interest in Telecom Kenya, Kenya’s largest operator, last year, is proof that Africa remains high on FT’s overall strategy. FT Group has a major commitment to developing fixed and mobile services, particularly helping incumbent operators make the transition to full market liberalization. FT also operates networks in Botswana, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Egypt, Equatorial Guinea, Republic of Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Ivory Coast, Madagascar, Mali, Niger and Senegal. In each case, Orange is helping to modernize existing networks, and build out mobile and wireless networks in underserved locations. In Ivory Coast, for instance, Orange Business has built a Metro Ethernet network to support Cote D’Ivoire Telecom’s enterprise customers. This could well be the first all-optical backbone of its kind in Africa.