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Facebook launches low priced internet

US tech giant Facebook has launched its low-cost internet service in Kenya, setting the stage for a fight for bottom of the market consumers with telecom operators Safaricom, Airtel and Telkom Kenya.

READ: Facebook expands low-cost Internet

Surf Kenya, Facebook’s local partner, chief executive Mark Summer said his company is planning a countrywide rollout of the service in the coming months in pursuit of the social media giant’s plan to launch affordable high speed internet to the under-served.

The Facebook product is priced much lower than what is currently available in the market.

The social media giant is charging rock bottom prices for internet bandwidth with plans that cost as low as Sh10 and Sh20 for 40 MB and 100 MB of data, respectively.

Kenya’s telecoms giant Safaricom charges Sh50 for 65 MB while Airtel and Orange offers 50 MB and 400 MB for the same amount respectively.

Weekly Facebook Wi-Fi package is priced at Sh50 for 300 MB and Sh100 for 500 MB while a monthly plan is priced at Sh200 (1.25 GB) and Sh500 for 3 GB. The Facebook product comes with speeds of up to 10Mbps, making it a potentially attractive offer for low-end market internet users. Facebook has already switched on the service in 10 satellite towns around Nairobi and has announced plans to introduce the product in Mombasa and Kisumu by end of this week.

“Kenya is Africa’s tech hub and it fits well into Facebook’s strategy. We are happy to see the commercial roll-out of the Express Wi-Fi service that offers consumers affordable access and gets internet to the many people that remain underserved,” Facebook’s regional head of partnerships for Express Wi-Fi in Africa Uche Ofodile said.

The service is targeting the millions of Kenyans who remain without access to the internet as well as a share of the 37.7 million Kenyans with access to the internet, according to the latest (July-September) statistics from the Communications Authority of Kenya (CA). Internet penetration in Kenya stands at 85.3 per cent.

Facebook’s Express Wi-Fi is currently accessible in Nairobi’s satellite towns of Ongata Rongai, Limuru, Kiserian, Kitengela, Kiambu, Mlolongo, Ngong, Ruaka, Thika and Wangige where the firm has switched on more than 100 hotspots.

To access the internet, one needs to activate the wi-fi and select Express Wi-Fi by Facebook hotspot, where the prompt re-directs the user to the operator’s web address for a one-off registration.

Users are required to buy data bundles from the recruited agents also listed on the Surf Express Wi-Fi website.

The Express Wi-Fi has a 10-day offer where users access 100MBs daily package for free after which they are required to top up through recharge agents recruited in areas where it is available. A consumer needs to be within a range of about 250 metres to access the internet, which comes with speeds of up to 10 mbps.

Facebook said plans are under way to expand the reach per hotspot. The service is currently concentrated in public places such as shopping centres, office blocks and bus terminus. The tech giant is rolling out the service in partnership with Internet Solution and Surf Kenya, which rides on the former’s infrastructure.

The firm said it was open to working with other players in the market.  

“Kenyan consumers need to get high speed internet at a low-cost and Surf is driving this agenda using Express Wifi by Facebook. The internet is available in places where people spend most of their time as it remains core to us to get the affordable service to the people,” said Mr. Summer.

Express Wifi service is unlike Free Basics, which gives people unpaid access to information on useful services like health, news, jobs and local government information among others.

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