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Kenyans in the diaspora are calling home less often as they turn to free Internet apps such as Whatsapp and Skype to communicate with their friends and relatives, new data shows.
Data from the Communications Authority of Kenya (CAK) shows that international incoming voice traffic grossed 146 million minutes in the three months to December compared to 204.9 million, representing a drop 28.7 per cent.
Calls headed abroad also dropped to 118.9 million minutes from 153.7 million in the period under review.
The communication regulator says a rise in the use of the free applications has cut cross-border voice traffic.
“This decline could have been attributed to availability of alternative OTT (over the top) voice and/or video services such as Whatsapp, Skype, Viber, Ovoo among others,” said CAK in its latest report on industry trends. This captured in the rise in international SMS traffic.
Incoming SMS increased 156 per cent to 32.6 million texts while outgoing messages increased to Sh14.6 million from nine million in the period under review.
“Traffic volume for SMS continued to grow amid increased popularity in the use of OTT messaging services such as whatsapp,” added CAK.
“The growth in international incoming SMS could partially be as a result of the decline in international incoming voice traffic.”
The data shows that 6.28 billion texts were sent in the quarter to December compared to 3.68 billion in the same period in 2012.
Local mobile subscribers are increasingly turning to free applications to send pictures and short videos in what has seen a drop in multimedia SMS services.
The free apps provided by third parties, such as Whatsapp, are denying telcos an opportunity to make money from multimedia SMS that attract higher charges if sent through the normal networks.
They also deny telcos cash from voice traffic, which is higher compared to internet cost which comes with using the free applications. The popularity of the applications has been boosted by the increased use of tablet computers and smartphones to surf the web.
Though Kenya has many lower-end users who only make calls and send text messages, but its increasingly young and tech-savvy population is buying higher-end handsets which are increasing data usage across the country.
This saw internet penetration in Kenya cross the 50 per cent mark, thanks to an increase in mobile phone subscriptions. Internet penetration stood at 52.3 per cent of the population in December, up from 41.1 per cent in 2012.
The number of internet users stood at 21.2 million in December from 16.2 million in 2012, chiefly due to mobile phone data services through 3G networks, CAK said.
Most of the activity was on social networking sites mainly by young people.
WhatsApp is the most successful of the apps, allowing users to send MMS without paying the relatively higher fees charged by mobile operators.
Such apps are gaining popularity because while many telcos charge for individual texts, the app-based messages are sent via telcos’ generous or unlimited data plans.
Whatsapp, which has millions of users worldwide, has expanded its reach to cover a wide variety of handsets including smartphones.
The firm last year signed a deal with Nokia to embed Whatsapp in new models of the Finnish phone manufacturer.
– Business Daily