Destined To Disrupt: Taxis Become A Battleground For Free WiFi Connections

Destined To Disrupt: Taxis Become A Battleground For Free WiFi Connections

Public transport in Africa are quickly becoming a battleground for companies seeking to capture the attention of the continent fast growing middle class by using free WiFi internet connection in taxis as an enticement and a platform to market their products.

According to IBM’s Africa Research Lab, poor internet connectivity is one of the major problem facing most African economies that have over the last decade posted one of the fastest growth rate in the world.

A number of companies, both local and multinationals, have come up with free-WiFi schemes that are installed in taxis in Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa and Ghana.

One of Nigeria’s largest private taxi companies, Metrotaxi, has teamed up with internet service provider, Smile Communications to provide free internet connectivity in its over 200 cabs in Lagos, Africa’s most populated city with over 21 million people.

The move is seen by industry analysts as a fight back move to keep customers from signing up on to Uber, an international cab-sharing smartphone application firm that entered the West African country about a year ago.

Metrotaxi’s Chief Marketing Officer, Alero Ladipo, said in a statement announcing the partnership the fee internet “reinforce the view that people should remain connected to the internet while on the go”, adding that fares will still remain the same despite the upgrade.

With many cities including Nairobi, Lagos and Cape Town positioning themselves as emerging tech hubs in Africa, WiFi availability  has become an important ingredient to tech innovations and startups on the continent.

Combined with long hours city commuters take navigating traffic jams in these cities, companies are seeing  this as a great opportunity to reach out to their target consumers, making public transportation and WiFi availability a perfect match.

A Captive Audiance

Last month, the South African National Taxi association (Santaco) in partnership with Telkom Mobile and technology company Wi-Taxi rolled out a free internet service in about 1,500 taxis and 50 taxi ranks across the country’s major cities to enable mini-bus taxi users to access their social media account, check emails and generally surf the internet through free connections.

“We want to keep our 15-million daily commuters and attract more people back to using public transport in general and taxis in particular,” Santaco president Philip Taaibosch said at the launch of the initiative in Soweto.

In a similar move, South African bank Absa launched its Moovah! app in April in selected taxis, which gave commuters free WiFi access to the internet as well as display information about the bank’s product and services.

The Moovah! connectivity was made possible with a partnership between Absa, OnRoot and vehicle financing company SA Taxi.

“Taxi operators offering the Moovah! service will become preferred providers for commuters, increasing their revenue streams. In return, they will also earn revenue as a media outlet for organizations using Moovah! to promote their products,” Onroot Chief Executive and Founder Megan Harrison said in a media release.

In Nairobi, East Africa’s economic, business and technology hub, more than 1,000 mini-buses taxis, popularly known as Matatu, are equipped with free WiFi for passengers to enjoy internet connection via a service called Vuma Online, a product of Kenya’s largest and the region’s most profitable telecommunication company Safaricom.

The East Africa city is ranked among the top ten most painful places to commute in the worlds, according to IBM’s Commuter Pain Index, and is estimated to be hemorrhaging the local economy about $600,000 per day in lost productivity, fuel consumption and pollution.

“Commutes can be up to three hours long,” Jeremy Gordon, chief executive of FlashCast, a Kenyan tech start-up, told BBC News. “That’s a captive audience whose time is pretty under-used.”