So today yuMobile launched  a Ksh 2 per hour data offer. I wonder who will use that but I can understand the joke these people are trying to pull. It is just not funny though. And they did that when they realised that Safaricom might be launched a more advanced data offering for its clients. We were later assured that the faster 3G services will be available in other parts of Nairobi and Mombasa within the next 3 months

And so Safaricom has upgraded over 80 base stations to offer 3G data services with speeds of up to 21 Mbps. The total investment in the upgrade is Sh80 million with the service available in the operator’s 3G network in Nairobi.

The only downside to this which we bluntly told the CEO of Safaricom is that it is a bit discriminative. Safaricom has identified an area it calls its Data Belt. The area is served by the upgraded 80 3G base stations and covers Langata, Lavington, Westlands, Upperhill, South C, South B and parts of Industrial Area. They traditionally show high internet usage on Safaricom’s and will now enjoy faster speeds that can potentially go up to 21Mbps. Safaricom upgraded and has been testing its data network in these areas at for the last two weeks.

“We understand the huge potential of the internet as a tool that can bring about massive improvements in education, entertainment, health service provision, agriculture and other facets of life. At Safaricom, our aim is to ‘democratize’ the internet and bring it to as many Kenyans as possible. With the launch of this upgrade that allows for faster speeds, we are demonstrating true leadership in this quest,” said Safaricom CEO Bob Collymore.

Before the upgrade, the maximum speeds for a subscriber was at 7.2 Mbps while the maximum capability of a 3G base station was 14 Mbps. Following the latest upgrade, which cost about Sh1 million per site, the user experience in terms of internet speeds is expected to at least double. Average user internet speed is currently between 700 Kbps to 1.5 Mbps during busy hours.

With the upgrade and using a high speed modem, which are now available at Safaricom Shops, the user will now enjoy average speeds of between 2.5 and 3 Mbps during peak hours and maximum speeds in excess of 17 Mbps off-peak, a massive improvement. It is important to note that actual speeds may not reach the maximum level as 3G is a shared resource and speeds are eventually dependant on usage levels at a given time.

Safaricom plans to further extend the data upgrade to the rest of Nairobi with another 50 sites earmarked for an identical revamp in the next three months before the program is taken to the rest of Nairobi and other key towns in Kenya, starting with Mombasa.

Mr Collymore spoke during an experiential launch of the upgrade at the Michael Joseph Centre last evening, noted that the move was a direct response to consumer concerns and promised that the firm would continue listening and acting upon user feedback.

The upgrade of Safaricom’s consumer data offering also saw the introduction of new modems to support the speeds. One of the modems introduced is the Huawei E1820 modem which can serve upto 21 Mbps data speeds. The modem also comes with a memory that can be expanded.

Safaricom was the first Kenyan operator to commercially launch a 3G network in October 2007, ensuring that its subscribers accessed high speed mobile data. The technology was initially available in and around Nairobi but was later rolled throughout the country within a year. Last week, the firm announced the installation of over 120 3G base stations in Western Kenya as part of an ongoing strategy to revamp its network capability in the region.

Safaricom has been actively investing in its 3G network, the only one in Kenya since it was launched. The network boasts the kind of wide reach and versatility that will ensure data customers take full advantage of the latest upgrade as the consumer data market continues to record rising demand. Safaricom has sold over 500,000 data-enabled devices that include mobile handsets and modems and the results are already clear. Today, out of every 10 Kenyans who use the internet regularly, at least 9 of them access it through the Safaricom network.