Disruption has to be one of the most overused words in the whole start-up space globally. Start-up founders are always talking about how disruptive their idea will be when it finally takes off. Quite often, many start-ups are not really disruptive and tend to be simply an improvement on what already exists. In the case of Kahenya Kamunyu’s Able Wireless, I see what could be a genuine disruption to Pay TV services in Kenya and potentially across Africa.
Basically, Able Wireless is a low cost video on demand (VOD) streaming service that combines a wireless router and Internet subscription service. The service is quite similar in execution to ROKU which is a video streaming service available in the US as well as Netflix. The interesting bit is that the subscription will be approximately Kes. 800.00 a month for unlimited video streaming over the Internet as well as general Internet access. Kahenya is positioning Able Wireless so that it reaches consumers at a fairly low price compared to currently available Internet service providers. Whichever way you look at it, this is the kind of service that could give the likes of DSTV, Star Times and Zuku sleepless nights when they eventually launch next year.
However, as impressive as Kahenya’s Able Wireless seems to be on paper and in practice (I saw a live demo at DEMO Africa 2013 where he was pitching his start-up), there are a few obvious and not so obvious hurdles he faces. The first is that the cost of importing the custom-made and Raspberry PI powered Able wireless routers means that the recently implemented Kenyan tax regime alone will increase the cost per unit by approximately 50%.
The second challenge is that of licensing content from local and global content providers who often require large upfront payments from broadcasters, and especially for premium live content. This cannot be avoided as doing so illegally would lead to crippling law suits. Lastly, there is the matter of the established Pay TV behemoths in Kenya like DSTV, Zuku and Star Times who already have a major head start and deep pockets. Indeed, it would not be hard for them to replicate the Able Wireless model in short order were it not for massive investments in their legacy offerings. Lastly, and possibly most significantly is the impending entry of Safaricom into the same space sometime next year, which I predicted on this blog in an earlier blog post a few months ago. Safaricom is always a game changer and they have all the assets to disrupt Able Wireless itself.
Going forward, its not all doom and gloom for Able Wireless. In fact, it looks quite promising if Kahenya actually pulls it off. This is a guy who has done almost anything and everything under the sun when it comes to doing start-ups over the last few years that I have known him. If he can actually pull it off he will sign up customers by the droves and possibly create a whole new market that has been untapped since broadband became widely available in Kenya – albeit legally and not via illegal torrenting. Indeed, Able Wireless could disrupt Pay TV as well as pirated DVD sales in Kenya.
Meanwhile Find below a video interview I had with Kahenya during Barcamp Nairobi 2013 where he talks enthusiastically about his plans for Able Wireless: