Nerding in Nairobi

A few months travelling, living and hacking in Kenya

Infographic: How Kenya Connects

One of the people I met over the course of my trip supplied me with a goldmine of data on the mobile devices Kenyans use. The source is confidential so unfortunately I can’t share too many details but the market segmentation below captures most of the insights I could gather.

How Kenya Connects

How Kenya Connects


Almost 80% of Kenyan adults own a mobile phone and many of the rest share access. This has made mobile the target platform for the first generation of African tech entrepreneurs. Based on analysis of a 2012 sample of millions of Kenyan mobile subscribers, these mobile devices largely fall into three categories: smartphones, high-end feature phones and entry-level feature phones.


A small portion of Kenyans own smartphones like the Huawei U8150 IDEOS

OS Last-gen modern (4% Android 2.x, 3% Symbian)
Access 3G + WiFi
Web Full HTML
I/O Touchscreen and/or keyboard
Camera Multi-megapixel with video
Extras GPS, compass, accelerometer

These are the users we are accustomed to targeting for mobile offerings in the US. In Kenya, they represent a small but high-end segment of the population. Given the relatively low price of the IDEOS it also represents an opportunity to provide smartphones as part of high-margin enterprise software deployments.

High-end Feature Phone22%

More have old but featureful phones like the Nokia 5130 XpressMusic

Nokia 5130 XpressMusic
OS Proprietary with Java MIDP apps
Access EDGE
Web Full HTML
I/O Moderate screen (e.g. 240x320) and keypad
Camera VGA or better, low quality video
Extras SMS, MMS, Email, IM

Combined with the smartphone segment, users with access to HTML browsers account for 30% of the market. This makes for a substantial customer base but a challenging target for developers given the variability in features and operating systems.

Entry-level Feature Phone70%

The majority of Kenyans rely on basic feature phones like the Nokia 1680

Nokia 1680
OS Proprietary with Java MIDP apps
Access GPRS or EDGE
Web Basic WAP
I/O Small screen (128x160) and keypad
Camera VGA, if any
Extras SMS, MMS

Developers seeking to reach a majority of the Kenyans are limited to SMS and USSD applications on these low-end devices. The success of SMS-based mobile money service like M-Pesa make this an interesting segment in spite of its limitations. The majority of Kenyans are comfortable using mobile money to buy airtime, lend to family and pay for goods and services. The ability to offer for-fee services over SMS/USSD opens up a world of possibilities that didn’t exist for mobile developers in the early-2000s US.

Data source is private

Icons by Marwa Boukarim and James Fenton from The Noun Project