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Time running out for fixed lines in Kenya

02 August 2013, 17:54

Nairobi - The fixed telephone line service, as it is known today by many Kenyans, is heading to the history books, just like the dinosaurs.

Kenya is losing the fight to retain the service as subscribers shift preferences, vandals continue to destroy the network and service providers, namely Telekom Kenya, inject little investment in the sector.

Extinction of land lines

Official data from Communication Commission of Kenya (CCK) point to the fact that the fixed telephone line service in the East African nation is headed for extinction.

The number of subscribers using the service has thinned to the lowest to stand at 59,851 at the end of March, down from 80,675 during a similar period last year.

"The number of fixed terrestrial lines subscriptions declined by 8.9 percent to stand at 59,851, down from 65,710 in the previous quarter," said CCK in a quarterly analysis for the period January to March released Wednesday.

The report indicates that between December 2012 and March, Kenya had lost about 6,000 subscribers, a figure that is higher than the number of people the service gains.

In fact, the data shows that the service may not be gaining any subscribers from quarter to quarter. In the period ending March 2011, the number of subscribers on the fixed line service, according to CCK, stood at 227,291.

However, by December that year, the service had lost 136,477 subscribers to stand at 90,814. This was the worst year for service providers.

In March 2012, the number dropped to 80,675 and plunged even further to 65,710 by the end of December.

However, it is not only the fixed line network that is on the verge of extinction, CCK data shows that fixed wireless service is not doing any much better.

As with fixed line, wireless network subscribers continue to decline significantly putting a dent on the fixed telephone service in the East African nation. As in March, the number of subscribers stood at 161,436, down from 185,857 in December 2012.

In March 2012, there were 191,426 subscribers on the network, which was a marginal drop from December's 192,732. In March 2011, the number of subscribers stood at 215,659.

CCK and major service provider Telekom Kenya attribute the sharp decline of subscribers and service to vandalism and high cost of maintenance.

"This decline could be attributed to vandalism of copper cables as well as high maintenance costs and a marked shift to mobile telephony," said CCK.

Vandals a challenge

On the other hand, Telkom Kenya CEO Mikhael Ghossein said that continued vandalism of copper cables has had negative impact on the service.

Vandalism, according to Ghossein, affects service, which in turn makes subscribers shift to mobile telephony.

"While popularity of mobile phone services may have resulted in the fixed line becoming unpopular, vandalism is the bane of the network," said Ghossein, adding that lack of harsher penalties on perpetrators is fanning the vice.

The vandals sell the wires to scrap metal dealers who in turn export them mainly to Asia. On average, Telekom records two major incidents of vandalism each day, making the company spend over 160, 919 U.S. dollars a month to repair vandalized cables and about 1.7 million dollars in lost business.

The drop in the number of subscribers on the two networks is eating into the revenue of service providers as usage of the lines decline.

"During the quarter under review, the total traffic in the fixed network declined by 47.8 percent to reach 27 million minutes down from 53 million minutes recorded during the previous quarter. The decline in fixed network traffic is attributed to the decline in subscriptions during the period," said CCK.

Similarly, fixed line to other networks traffic declined by 8.5 percent between January and March to record 23 million minutes down from 25 million minutes posted the previous quarter.

Kenyans use of the network to call abroad or receive calls has also declined.

The significant decline in making of international calls on the fixed line network is attributed to mobile telephone service providers offering lower rates. The companies namely Yu, Safaricom, Orange and Airtel are offering from as low as 0.03 dollars per minute to call Asia and Europe.

It has, therefore, become cheaper and easier to call abroad for many Kenyans, in some cases cheaper than even making calls within the country on some networks.

"The continued decline in international fixed voice traffic could be attributed to the stiff competition from mobile operators and consumer preference for mobile voice, text messages and email services," noted CCK.

Kenya mobile phone subscribers stood at 29.8 million at the end of March. 

- Xinhua

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