SIM Card exchange

The early morning in downtown Nairobi allows you to do a lot of small things that had been neglected in the past.

Since reading about Safaricom’s new mobile payment system some time ago, which will in future revolutionize the way smaller amounts of money are transfered between mobile phone users (= 5 million Safaricom users and their families & friends!), I was longing to exchange my SIM card to a newer one. One where the internal SIM card set had been programmed to accomodate the M-PESA menu.

The other reason is that the SIM I am using had been given to me by Lady Mbuzimoja earlier last year, and she never gave me the SIM card adapter which holds the PIN2 and PUK numbers. In other words: I urgently needed to get hold of a new SIM with all supplied numbers.


SIM card exchange is FREE in Kenya! Imagine with Vodafone Germany (and Vodafone Plc. being a shareholder in Safaricom!) you pay between EUR 15,- to 17,- for the simple exchange of SIM cards and their resp. activation. This process takes about 2-3 days and the activation about 30 minutes. Now compare that to Kenya – you just walk into a Customer Care Centre and have it exchanged after some obligatory security questions (1.What’s your PIN?, 2.Which number do you call regularly?). Fast, free and very efficient. Also, the SIM cards issued in Kenya offer 255 entries in the telephone book. I’ve exchanged my Vodafone Germany SIM about 3-4 times since 1998 and was always hoping to get more than 200 entries on that SIM. Deploying the settings and telephone directories to a new phone can be a hassle with modern phones as not all of them are compatible to each other and even within the range of Nokia phones, the directories and ways how telephone numbers and addresses are stored differ from phone to phone. Maybe they do this to promote the “MyAdressbook” function on the network which enables users to store their numbers on the central server of the network and have it synchronized with their new phone.

M-PESA, as I was told by Asha at SCCC, is still in an internal testing phase and shall be activated for the public asap its functionality is proven. Now let’s wait and see how this fine service will boost the economy.

useful mobile phone accessories

There are lots of useful accessories for mobile phones sold in Kenya these days. It starts with the obligatory zipper bags for 50/=, battery chargers and replacement batteries and might end with mobile phone holders which are still hard to find. I guess one day someone will just start selling them and others will follow.

Among all these small parts that add value to your mobile telephone needs, there are two particular gadgets I really like:

1. A dual SIM card holder (~ 200 – 300 Kshs.)


Some time ago, these dual SIM card holders consisted of an adapter that goes into the SIM card bay, and is put between the battery and the backside cover. These adapters proved to be a bit agonizing, but still did their job.

And nowawadays, there’s a more sophisticated solution available: a tiny SIM card adaptor, offering enough space for two SIM cards.
See those yellow stickers on the picture? You just stick them on your Safaricom/Celtel SIM card, cut around the dotted line and place that golden part (the actual SIM) into the adapter. And because cutting those SIM cards often is a bit inaccurate, there are special pliers available with some fundis who just punch it out of its frame.
Placing two SIM cards into this adapter gives you the chance of having two lines in one phone – to activate each line, you just have to switch them on and off and it will select one SIM card / line. It’s a perfect way for those who can’t or won’t decide between the networks.

Also, since SIM card replacement doesn’t cost too much in Kenya (as opposed to e.g. Vodafone Germany, where the replacement of a simple SIM card + activation costs around EUR 17,-), it makes sense to sacrifice those SIMs (in case the fundi doesn’t get it right) and just try it out.

2. a universal charger (~ 100 – 200 Kshs.)


There are phones that have problems loading the battery. Sometimes it’s just the external charger which is faulty and can be replaced, but sometimes the phone just refuses to recharge even new batteries so it’s a problem inside the phone. Since most charging devices are directly soldered onto the phone’s PCB, locating the error might be a problem for the average (unexperienced) fundi.
A perfect work-around for such a nasty problem, where the phone otherwise is fully functional, is such a universal charger that just loads most phone batteries externally. A cheap solution that will surely extended the life of many mobile phones.

the DIY phone booth

Cross posted on Afrigadget.

I was travelling in an upcountry minibus today when the guy seated just next to me pulled out his new mobile phone he recently purchased in Embu, Kenya.

Safaricom, the biggest mobile phone network provider in Kenya with about 5 million customers, introduced some handsets in the past, which enable resellers to deliver phone services to the public. Such handsets, which look like phones for fixed-lines, often come with an external display that shows the units consumed by customers.

The two (gsm) mobile phone networks in Kenya have become very succesful in the past, as the state owned telecommunications company only provided the country with about 300.000 fixed-lines of which many are out of order or have been subject to vandalism.

Next to providing the public with mobile phone booths, these public phones also offer a great small-scale business opportunity for the owners of such handsets. And for those who obtain their pre-paid scratchcards at a wholesale price, there’s a 5% revenue coming along. These public phone booths are just a perfect way of helping people start their own business where the initial starting costs are quite low.

(please excuse the poor picture quality)

So, instead of buying a rather expensive Safaricom handset which is specially designed for use with these roadside telephone booths, this guy next to me bought the Afrigadget-solution: This gadget actually is a very cheap MadeInChina fixed-line phone which has been ripped of it’s inwards. The person who modified it ripped an old Siemens C25 phone apart and installed its display instead of the one that came along with this phone. The keypad is soldered to the phone and a rechargeable battery is inside the box with an external power supply.


The SIM card holder at the back of the phone comes with a dual-SIM-card adapter so that the operator may add another network and switch between both networks by simply switching it on and off.

These DIY-handsets for public phone booths come at a price range of about Ksh. 2.000 – 5.000 /= (~ US-$ 28 – 70) and are about half of the price the “official” handsets are selling for.

Dear Safaricom…

I’ve been successfully using your GPRS service on my (branded Vodafone!) Nokia 6230i in the past three months, and also took the opportunity to blog about this fine service (here and here) so that other users benefit from this technical progress which really makes a difference for wireless internet access in Kenya.

I am located in a rural area and it just adds lots of convenience to access my emails and surfing the net via my mobile and/or my computer. I wouldn’t want to miss it anymore, and I think wireless telco solutions are the future in Kenya in terms of reliability and accessibility. Thx!

However, there are still some open questions regarding your service which have come in as comments on my blog – and I would like to kindly ask you, or whoever is authorized to give an official statement on GPRS support on Safaricom.

Here are our questions:

  1. How much does it actually cost per Megabyte + V.A.T.? And how much is a megaybte? 1000 kb or 1.024 kb?
  2. How do you enable your customers to use GPRS? Is it just an activation for the SIM card / line?
  3. Are customers required to buy special GPRS phones which are supported by the network, or are the GPRS settings universal and only a few phones may receive automatic settings sent out by your service?
  4. How long does it take to activate customers on GPRS? I know there have been some users in the past months who are still waiting for their GPRS settings and/or line activation.
  5. How come the customer care line (100) is almost never available? Or is it just bad luck that I never got through so far?
  6. When will you update your (mobile office) website on GPRS usage? When I google for “safaricom gprs kenya settings” (and similar keywords), I first of all get to my own blog. Hmm. You know I am just a user who wants to share his joy with others. The blogging approach though might add to the Google ranking.
    In other words: update your website more often, and potential customers/users will figure it out themselves on how to use GPRS with Safaricom. Just like we did.
    (Please correct me if I am wrong on this one, but my assumption is that most GPRS users in Kenya are still above the kawaida level – geeks, to be precise, who first of all google for their informations needed before they try out the busy #100 helpline.)
  7. What can customers do to speed up the process of getting their GPRS settings? Can we walk in your Westlands office on Waiyaki Way in Nairobi and ask for the settings? I went to Sarit Centre’s Safaricom retailer the other day and asked for details, but the guy there just didn’t even know that GPRS also works for prepaid customers.
  8. aegeus asks: “I have been unable to use the GPRS service beyond 10 pm weekdays, is this interruption scheduled or part of the limits of the service?”
  9. and: “And can they provide a discounted price preference like the competitors whose postpaid customers are charged at 8 bob per 1mb, down from 10 bob if their usage exceeds a certain level?”
  10. AfroM asks: “…those of us in US have been having issues with their SMS services, our counterparts in Kenya receive the messages we send them but we do not receive their replies, yet they get charged for the SMS they sent to us?”
  11. 60/\/\ asks: “Why don’t the GMail app and some other applications like MJabber work.” (yeah, why not?!?!)

Any constructive comments on those questions will be highly appreciated by me and the various readers of this blog. Thx!

@everyone: if you know more or have further questions, pls put them as a comment and I’ll add them to the list…