Over 13 million Kenyans hit as Opera stops free data plans

This follows a decision by BCLB on "Speed Dial" (Bookmarks).

In Summary

•Since the year 2020, Opera has been giving free data to all its users including feature phones users.

•At least 13.5 million local users have been benefiting from its 50MB daily free data plan.

A person uses the Opera Mini app/LEAH MUKANGAI
A person uses the Opera Mini app/LEAH MUKANGAI

Kenyans using Opera Mini have been hard-hit as Opera stops its free data campaign, which allowed its consumers of limited means to enjoy free data bundles to access the internet.

The firm, which operates the Opera Mini Browser, has been affected by local authorities’ decision, including the Betting Control and Licensing Board, to stop advertising on Speed Dials (bookmarks on the start page) within browsers.

Speed dials are visual versions of bookmarks – shortcuts that appear as a grid of tiles when you open a new tab in a browser.

They provide quick access to one's most visited websites without the need to type the name of the website in the search bar.

Since the year 2020, Opera has been giving free data to all its users including feature phones users.

About 13.5 million local users have been benefiting every day from its 50MB daily free data plan.

Communication Authority's latest data (quarter two-October-December) shows there were at least 31.8 million feature phones in the market as of December, users who also benefited from the free data campaign that was being run in partnership with the leading telcos Safaricom and Airtel.

The total mobile phone devices stood at 65.45 million as of December, translating to a penetration rate of 129.4 percent.

The penetration rate for feature phones and smartphones stood at 62.9 percent and 66.4 percent, respectively, meaning feature phones still serve a huge number of Kenyans, who have since been pushed out of internet access.

This, as the cost of internet in Kenya remains high compared to other markets, with a gigabyte averaging Sh295.23 ($2.25), compared to the $25 cents (Sh 32.80 ) in developed markets.

“Unfortunately, for now, we have had to stop our much-loved Free Data Campaigns in Kenya for our 13.5 million local Opera users. We had to put a hold on investments and free internet access in Kenya, but we are hoping for a solution so that we can once again provide free data to you, our valued customers in Kenya,” the firm said in a statement.

Opera however still offers a unique feature set and data-saving functionality, allowing one to save upto 90 per cent of data while browsing through Opera Mini.

“We appreciate your understanding, and would like to thank you for your patience as we work towards reaching a positive outcome,” the firm said.

Opera has been big in Africa with the free internet plan, with over 100 million users across the continent where Kenya and Nigeria accounted for a big part of it .

The free data was part of Opera’s big way of supporting the users and driving Kenya’s digital inclusion and transformation, management said.

Stopping the campaign seems not to be the way the company wanted to go, and it hopes that key stakeholders will find a solution to enable the return of the plan as soon as possible.

The firm has made efforts to reach the BCLB to find a solution, with no success.

Opera has to date provided data equivalent to Sh1.6 billion on the free internet campaigns during 2023 in Kenya alone, which has benefited a huge population including college students.

Opera Mini also offers a unique data compression technology that makes data last 10 times longer than on any other major browser.

Compression shrinks the web content a device receives to a fraction of its original size, allowing one to get videos, photos and text, at less data spending, and loads pages faster.

The pages one visits go through one of its servers. The server identifies pieces of the page that can be compressed. It shaves off image pixels and corrects video buffering.

Then, it sends back these smaller-sized pieces to one’s device.

The longer this situation goes on the more difficult it will be for Opera to invest in campaigns in Kenya, management said, where it has one of the biggest customer bases.

As an organisation that prides itself in offering customer-driven data solutions, Opera’s aim is to contribute towards bridging the digital divide and offering seamless browsing experiences to all users including those who browse using feature phones, management affirmed. 

WATCH: The latest videos from the Star