Safaricom: Mobile data and international roaming :-(

The only part of my Africa experience that I really got pissed off with is mobile internet access via Safaricom, which apparently is the market leader for telecommunications in Kenya.

Buying a pre-paid SIM card is simple and cheap (about one Euro) and so are the calling costs per minute. Yet aiming at data access, in particular data roaming, was a terribly frustrating experience that I absolutely do not recommend to repeat. First of all, after activating my card as described in the manual, I could not receive any calls nor text messages (SMS) to my number +254 702 930 904. This got fixed by a Safaricom employee, after stopping by at the Safaricom customer care office in Nanyuki (and waiting `just´ a couple of hours because at first their server were down in the morning).

I also learned somehow that I needed to dial the code *445# to receive the data settings, but at least on my HTC Desire I never received those, even trying over and over. It took numerous interactions with Safaricom representatives, and in total more than two hours stretching over several days until it turned out that I should manually set up certain APN settings in my phone (while in Europe, for instance, this is not needed to be done at all). Then things finally worked as expected, but only until I crossed the border to Tanzania.

I had been told that while staying in Tanzania, I could simply use the data bundle(s) that I had bought and activated in Kenya, but this turned out to be not true: instead, my remaining airtime got consumed pretty quickly, and I was unable to access the 150MB of volume I had paid for some 5 Euros. Looking for help on the Safaricom website did not provide any useful information on data roaming, where their Data Roaming Charges link wrongly points to general voice roaming info. Even more unmasking, at least part of what they write on their website is plainly wrong, e.g. on their ``Useful Information´´ page they claim: ``15. Byte - Collection of bits make a byte. 8 bits = 1 byte e.g. the word "Safaricom" has 1 byte´´. Any further comments needed on their tariff-related and technical qualification?

Things are not better in terms of organization and service: they claim provide customers with ``one network´´, but when roaming within Tanzania I was not able to access any service number of Safaricom - their roaming partner VodaCom held itself not responsible, and the official service hotline number (+254 722 002 100) did not work, and even if it had, it would have cost me quite a bit, calling an international number. Not even voice call roaming worked in Tanzania: though I had topped up my airtime with a nominal value of around 1 Euro, when calling I do not get any connection ‐ and even worse, somehow my credit got depleted even though no services were used/provided.

The conclusion from all this is clear: bye Safaricom, never again!!!

David von Oheimb - last modified: Mon Jan 17 17:30:20 CET 2011