Kenya’s mobile culture.

Apologies for the hiatus. I’m back as promised with a little something special for my 250th post.

Long story short, I’ve been fortunate enough to spend the past 10 or so days in Kenya. I was barely off the plane when I procured a local SIM card; here’s everything else I saw pertaining to mobile phones in Nairobi and beyond.

The Players

Note that most of the following photos were taken in Nairobi’s Westgate Mall

Safaricom seems by far the most popular carrier in the land, and got the nod for a coveted (if temporary) spot in my N86. They owe a lot of their popularity to M-Pesa, Africa’s world-famous mobile wallet service.

I myself signed up for an M-Pesa account, but left it too late in the trip and never received the activation SMS to get me started. But with some 14 million users as of this writing I should think it works well enough.

Airtel is another popular carrier, with a mobile banking service of their own. It was developed by Obopay, which I’ve written about previously — see the ninth entry in this list.

And in case you were wondering, that offer just inside the door is for an LG feature phone plus 1,000 minutes (or the data/SMS equivalent) for about twenty Canadian bucks. I should have got one.

yuMobile is the network that my locked-to-Mobilicity E73 ended up roaming on. I saw but one dealer on my way to Maasai Mara, but I’m grateful that I was at least able to receive text messages from my home number while abroad.

UK operator Orange also has a presence in Kenya, but all the shops I saw seemed about as empty as this one.

The Gear

This is the part you Nokians want to hear about most, yes? Well, no need to fear… Nokia still rules in Africa if nowhere else. A big part of this is the harsh conditions in which handsets must survive. From dusty roads to shanty towns even a camera phone seems like a luxury here.

Nokia’s marketing push of the day on billboards in Nairobi was for Dabo-Dabo — a slogan for the C2-00 and X1-01 dual-SIM handsets.

Android is represented at the low end with IDEOS handsets from Huawei and Samsung’s Galaxy S II for the well-heeled. But in truth, the only Android devices I saw in Kenya were in shops and on TV.

Because my data service from Safaricom offered WAP browsing only my on-the-ground reporting was limited to tweets from dabr and Opera Mini. I wonder how much more sharing would have been possible had I requested a SIM for my Nexus One instead — and if a touchscreen “superphone” would even survive the trip…

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