As Kenya’s internet usage grows, a silent battle of search engines has been raging as firms seek to drive more traffic to their websites and reap greater revenues.
Norwegian multinational Opera is keen to tap the Kenyan market which added 1.3 million new internet users between 2022 and 2023 alone, according to data by the Communications Authority of Kenya. Opera recently announced that it will be investing up to Sh14 billion in the African market to boost the data-saving capacity of its Opera Mini browser.
Of this, Sh2 billion, will go into the Kenyan market, currently the firm’s second largest in Africa after Nigeria. Part of the money, the firm said, will be spent in partnerships with telecommunications firms such as Airtel and Safaricom to provide users with cheaper internet packages.
They have also set up a data centre in Nairobi to remove the need to send users’ requests all the way to their main hub in Europe, thus enabling Opera Mini to process data faster.
“Though more than 40 percent of the country has been connected to the internet, a majority of the people online use only about 50 megabytes (MB) of data in a month, because data is crazy expensive,” noted Kseniia Sycheva, senior global communications manager at Opera Mini.
Mind-blowing data cost
She said the cost of mobile data was a big hurdle in the firm’s bid to drive more users to its browser since a majority of Kenyans still do not have the resources to purchase data at the current rates.
“We are not even talking about laptops or phones but data bundles. It is mind-blowing that while in Kenya, a gigabyte of data might cost more than Sh200, in Italy, it costs less than Sh20,” said Ms Sycheva.
Due to user demand, Ms Kseniia said the firm plans to add features such as its Artificial Intelligence (AI) chatbot known as Arya, a dedicated gaming browser known as Opera GX,and a crypto browser used for trading in crypto currencies to the Opera mini app. She, however added that their priority is to first enable people to access the internet affordably.
“In Africa, many people do not need fancy features when even accessing the internet is an issue. Adding these features will take some time because we have to adjust them to the data saving technology, and it’s difficult to save 90 percent of data on features such as Arya AI or VPN, but we have started with sports content such as Live Scores because these are in huge demand,” said Ms Sycheva.
According to data by web traffic analysis tool StatCounter, Google Chrome is currently the most used browser in Kenya, controlling more than 60 percent of market share. It is followed by Safari web browser, developed by Apple.
The two are preinstalled in apple and android devices, giving them an advantage, but StatCounter shows that within the last year, browsers of choice such as Opera and UC browser have been gaining market share.
While Opera has chosen to focus on data saving technologies to enable users surf the internet with less data, others have been incorporating features that are in high demand amongst users such as AI assistant tools that speed up tasks such as content creation.
Early in the year, tech multinational Microsoft announced that it will be incorporating an AI assistant tool into its Bing and Edge web browsers to help in performing various actions including composing emails.
In May, web browser Brave also announced that it is testing its own AI assistant tool known as Leo.
Meanwhile, as more people migrate online, Ms Kseniia said data security is becoming a major issue. As people spend more time online, without proper cybersecurity awareness, they are likely to fall victim to malicious actors who could sell their data.
“Data privacy and security is now a big issue in Kenya, it wasn’t an issue before because someone would just use the internet for 5 minutes and that’s it, but once you start to do payments online, order goods online, go to social media and post your data there, there are chances of your accounts being hacked and that becomes a problem,” noted Ms Sycheva.
This could be achieved through implementing programs that teach people, particularly those who reside in rural Kenya, on how to use the internet without sharing too much of their data. It could also be achieved through formulation of data protection laws and policies that are just as robust as those in more advanced digital economies such as Europe.