Keeping Kenya Connected
As the coronavirus outbreak continues to escalate, the Technology Service Providers Association of Kenya is ensuring the country remains online and able to communicate key information
Writer: Tom Wadlow | Project Manager: Sam Love
When the city of Wuhan in the Hubei province of China reported its first cases of coronavirus, few would have foreseen the escalation that continues to sweep across almost all parts of the world.
At the time of writing, more than 441,000 cases of COVID-19 have been reported, with 111,000 of those having recovered and over 20,000 people losing their lives.
While the vast majority of the infected populous will make a full recovery, the ease at which the virus is transmitting is cause for tremendous concern, especially given the strain it is already placing on some of the most advanced healthcare systems in the world.
In Africa, the number of confirmed cases has passed the 1,000-mark, South Africa alone registering more than 400.
While the region appears to be behind other parts of the world such as Europe, fear is spreading that the continent will soon catch up, leading many governments to issue measures to curb the progress of the virus.
Kenya is one such country. Despite recording a handful of cases so far (25), the country is headed towards a period of lockdown with public venues closed and international flights grounded.
Healthcare workers are on standby to handle an influx of patients and are rightly being admired around the world for their brave, professional and selfless commitment to the cause, often risking their own lives by being in such close proximity to COVID-19.
Another critical element to societies’ efforts to combat the virus is something of an unsung hero, what we all take for granted on a day to day basis – communication.
In Kenya, telcos and tech service firms are working around the clock to ensure their services remain online and reliable, their capabilities vital in ensuring people and businesses remain informed on the latest developments and advice given by governments and health authorities.
Fiona Asonga is the Chief Executive Officer of the Technology Service Providers Association of Kenya, commonly known as TESPOK, a non-profit organisation representing the interests of telcos and communications providers in the country.
“We are beginning to see the number of cases doubling up, and our members are in critical need of information which we are obtaining from the government,” she says. “The situation is evolving all the time and so the authorities are trying to find a balanced position from which to move forward.
“We are already seeing a big jump in the demand for home internet use and it is crucial the industry is able to provide this, so we are trying to establish what support is needed for our members to make this happen. It is a two-way conversation we are trying to facilitate with the relevant government agencies.”
The importance of reliable communications in Kenya cannot be understated.
The end of 2018 saw the country pass the 100 percent mark in terms of mobile penetration, with around 49.5 million mobile cellular subscriptions which are transforming the national economy.
New developments like the Global Roaming Exchange at the Kenya Internet Exchange point, an international routing hub for the nation’s mobile technology, have facilitated the entrenchment of mobile into consumer and commercial life, not least in the area of banking.
“The Kenya Revenue Authority’s Integrated Tax Management System is heavily dependanton the Kenya Internet Exchange Point for availability to the public and at the various custom points,” Asonga adds.
“The digital learning program has seen learners continue to access learning material and keep themselves busy, even after schools were closed several weeks back.
The local internet traffic has increased, and service providers are being forced to upgrade their connections so as maintain the required quality of service parameters for the end users.”
Meanwhile, IoT developments are also advancing rapidly, another sign that Kenya is becoming one of Africa’s most well-connected countries.
But during these troubling times, the role of Asonga and TESPOK has shifted markedly, the organisation in constant dialogue with government as it attempts to coordinate the industry’s response.
“We are the partners behind the scenes making sure that communication continues to go uninterrupted,” she adds. “We are ensuring houses can continue to call hotlines and receive the most up to date information, an unsung hero role that is crucial in our country’s efforts to combat the outbreak.
“Our members and service engineers need to be on the ground, playing their part in unprecedented network upgrades and maintenance – we cannot afford for communications to stop running.”
And TESPOK itself is heeding the warnings issued by the Kenyan government.
The organisation has closed its offices until further notice in an attempt to minimise physical contact and slow the spread of COVID-19, its employees working from home and providing assistance in a number of areas, from technical support and new connections enquiries to escalations, queries and clarifications which are being handled by Asonga personally.
“We are also speaking with other associations from around Africa and other parts of the world,” Asonga says. “Sharing information and experiences in this way is vitally important, as we can learn from the likes of Italy and Germany who are at a more advanced stage in dealing with the outbreak.
“How are these associations helping to keep local internet traffic moving? This is what we need to learn.”
The CEO is hopeful the sector and wider economy will make it through the worst that is yet to come, the prospect of normal service resumed an inviting one that will see TESPOK continue its work representing the interests of Kenya’s telco players.
It has been doing so since 1999.
Operating with a vision to serve as a key enabler of ICT growth and development, its current initiatives include the targeting of educational institutions to enable them to provide courses which teach the relevant skill sets required within the industry.
Be it through holding seminars or issuing white papers, TESPOK is an active knowledge sharer as well as a guardian over the quality and level of internet access in Kenya.
The association is also involved in addressing issues of professional conduct and standards of service within the industry, meaning its role has evolved into one of leadership and guidance, a factor which is especially pressing today as chief coordinator of the national industry’s response to the coronavirus outbreak.
As the pandemic continues to make progress, TESPOK will be at the centre of ensuring Kenya remains connected during this critical time.