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Able Wireless: 'Hack' streaming for poor Kenyans

Access to streaming content in Kenya has been one of the most daunting and expensive technologies. The government, regulatory bodies and established stakeholders and beneficiaries have been the biggest obstacles in this sector. Finally, Kenyans, East Africans and users from other regions can now enjoy a sigh of relief as Able Wireless rolls out its innovative content delivery venture.

 

We talk to Kahenya Kamunyu, the founder of Able Wireless to learn more.

 

Can you tell us about the basics of your company; Able Wireless target customers and clients etc.?

We are targeting the bottom of the pyramid [middle and low income earners] and working our way up. We currently have just 40,000 purchase requests.

 

How old is Able Wireless as a company and the business idea specifically? What/who motivated this ambitious project?

Able Wireless is two years old. [It came about because] I was tinkering with a Raspberry Pi at my parents’ place in the village where I was recovering after an extended hospital episode. I had been working on a non-related client project that the client paid for but did not adopt because they decided to go in a totally different direction.

 

Out of curiosity, I combined the two, nearly shorted the TV and next thing you know it started working. It was still a private project, but [a colleague at] Google threw me a nice hook up that got me really thinking and working. Then another colleague pointed to the flaws in the plan and I took about eight months to make it right. I had not touched hardware in about five years so I was a bit behind. Next thing you know this was happening.

What products and services are you offering?

Able Wireless is offering unlimited access for HD streaming, unlimited cap free connectivity to the internet and unlimited global calling. All this with a flat charge of $6 per month.

Why would you consider your business idea, product and company unique? There are other established content delivery companies; what gives you an edge over them?

Able Wireless is the first pure Over-The-Top Public (OTT-Public) hybrid operator in the region. Hybrid in this case is a fancy phrase for "jua kali" [this is a Swahili phrase meaning “informal sector” or Blue collar jobs]. It is community operated and combines a unique set of infrastructure and services to actually operate. 


Our infrastructure is purpose designed for this environment and we do things that would be considered taboo when it comes to implementation [amidst Telco giants and insensitive government policies]. The entire network is one big hack.

“At Able Wireless, we break rules, we came to disrupt, we came to give and guarantee that we have built solid infrastructure…” (
Extracted here)… tell us more on what you meant?

We do not use an oversell policy. Our network is a hybrid network meaning that we can adapt it for any situation meaning we can easily scale up and tone down, managing our costs. This means that since we have fixed objectives with extremely well-defined variables, we can guarantee that the infrastructure we have in place will deliver as it should.

You were listed by CNN among the 15 African Tech Startups to watch for 2014, what are some of the reasons behind this prestigious accolade? To what extent have you remained true to this spirit? What words of advice do have for the next generation of entrepreneurs?

I don't know why CNN and Toby Shapshak [the expert behind this selection] really chose us, but I guess it’s because they can see how this can change [the world] not just Kenya.

 
Able Wireless is the same in spirit, ideals and objectives. I'm as hungry now as I was when writing the business plan. Probably more hungry even.


You have to hustle and wear a suit and go to work. Fantastic ideas are plenty, proper execution and follow-through is an entirely different monster.

Can you please comment on the ICT situation in Kenya and East Africa?

There is way too much red-tape, way too many loud people talking but not doing and that's just government. We sat waiting for paperwork for one year three weeks and six days. No explanation can ever justify that. We have infrastructure issues. Power distribution is a huge problem. [The Kenyan] government won't kill the monopoly. We are going nowhere slowly. The government needs to get out of the picture.

Would you say that Kenyan and East African ingenuity potential is underutilized? Why?
There is a lot of ingenuity, but very little opportunity. The actual opportunities are plenty, but dream killers in suits kill those opportunities. The government, especially, is the biggest dream killer. Never ever trust [the Kenyan] government with potential. It’s a wasted effort.

In your business, what do you consider as the greatest achievement? Are there statistics that you can share with us?

Surviving the paperwork process is the greatest achievement. It was the most expensive painful process we ever had to go through. It changed the dynamics of the team, changed us as people. Surviving paperwork is a rite of passage. [The company boasts at least 40,000 requests from 26 countries].

In line with the craze that has seen established and giant mobile service providers and other Telcos wanting to venture in almost all sectors of the Kenyan economy (ranging from mobile banking, content delivery to security etc.), how is your company dealing with this?

That's them. We simply stick to what we came to do, deliver better than them and let the market decide.

As a company that falls under the regulation of Communications Authority of Kenya (CAK) (formerly CCK), how would you comment in relation to acquisition of the various licenses in Kenya?

Dealing with the CAK was a harrowing experience. Not the guys at CAK, but the policies. It was in every sense [every] nightmare you can imagine under one roof. Going in as a new guy with no political connections taught me just how uneven the playing field is. It also taught me that there is no room for the youth.

What is your take in Kenya’s Digital Migration? (From analogue to digital broadcasting)

I have no take on it. I wish the other operators best of luck.

Are there any challenges (other than the above) in your operations, any obstacles that you feel are dragging you in terms of business? How have you addressed them?

Tax. Not much you can do there but pay Caesar his dues. KRA is our silent partner. Literally.

If you were to change anything else in this sector, what would you target?

[I would] change the entire leadership structure, remove all these underlying bodies, change the leadership, remove all the busybodies that do nothing and simplify the process to make it more conducive to entrepreneurship and make sense of the tax system that is clearly extortion.

What are your shorter and long-term goals? You have been approached by other countries, are you open to their proposals? Any other additional product in the pipeline?

We have one very simple straightforward objective. Build the best network and service we can. Anything else, you have to wait and see.

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Daniel Muraga

Daniel Muraga is an experienced online writer and communications professional based in Kenya.

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