The price war in the mobile phone market has forced Zain Kenya to review its tariff plan upwards. Now, the cost of calling from Zain to other networks is Sh12 (US $ 0.16) a minute, up from Sh8 (US$ 0.1) under its prepaid 'vuka' tariff, which was designed to net new subscribers.
The new tariff took effect on Saturday and according to Zain Kenya Managing Director Rene Meza, there is no other hidden cost or call set up fee. The cost of Zain to Zain calls remain at Sh8 a minute, with special offer of calling 10 numbers (friends and family) at Sh3 a minute.
Last year, Zain Kenya registered a loss, largely attributed to its low cross-network tariff campaign, Vuka. The campaign pulled its average revenue per user (ARPU) to record lows and the lowest in Zain's Group of 22 countries at $6 (Sh462) down from $7 (Sh539) in 2007. This is despite the company's growing market share and subscriber numbers. Its net losses increased to Sh6.9 billion at current exchange rate of Sh77 from Sh1.67 billion in 2007 on lower revenues and increased administrative costs mainly due to costs related to network expansion.
The company lowered its tariff in October in an effort to attract new subscribers, but the move hurt its revenues despite growing its customer numbers and probably the reason for the current upward review.
For the past few months, mobile operators have been engaged in a price war, which has significantly reduced the mobile tariffs. Until Saturday, Zain Kenya's Vuka tariff was the third cheapest at Sh8 a minute to all networks. Calling Orange mobile (Telkom Kenya's brand), costs Sh7 a minute within the network and Sh10 across network.
Yu, the most recent entrant, charges Sh7.50 a minute to other networks, but one shilling within network. Calling within the Safaricom network using the Ongea tariff (the most popular prepaid tariff) stands at Sh8 a minute, but Sh15 when calling other networks.
Mobile phone subscribers grew by 1.7 million to stand at more than 16.2 million in the quarter ending December last year, according to a report by the Communication Commission of Kenya. The battle for supremacy and subscribers is not only in the tariff platform, but also on Internet and smart phone technology. Zain-Kenya recently launched a new version of Black Berry smart phone, an upgrade of the phone in the market.
The launch came just weeks after Orange introduced iPhone 3G, smart phone. Safaricom, too, has its own version of Blackberry but has extended tentacles to the masses by introducing cheaper phones. Its latest entry, Kabambe, has, however, received bitter criticism from users as it breaks down often. "My Kabambe loses network and no longer has Mpesa and Safaricom functionalities. Worse, I give out my phone to Safaricom for eight days for repair," decried one of the 'Kabambe' users at a Safaricom Customer Care point in Nairobi.