The long-awaited General Elections are here (to be conducted tomorrow August 9, which is in line with the Kenya Constitution that says GE must be held on the second Tuesday of August after the lapse of the 5-year period).
The question is how regulators, especially those in the ICT sector have prepared the nation for the polls. The Communications Authority of Kenya, which is the local ICT regulator, has been at the forefront of the polls in ensuring that all matters related to information and communications technology are updated and robust enough to manage the elections that will see more than 21 million Kenyans pick their leaders.
This, simply put, means that the CA has a primary mandate to ensure that all mobile broadband network coverage across all polling centres in the country is in order. This is particularly essential because the CA licenses and regulates the ICT industry and manages the frequency spectrum. It is also the same Authority that facilitates the deployment of electronic transactions and all matters related to cybersecurity, as well as type approving communications equipment for use in Kenya.
3G and 4G Coverage
Kenya is one of the few African countries that has done an excellent job in the deployment of modern mobile networks. Its 4G coverage is excellent, and while 3G is naturally old technology, it is still being used by millions of Kenyans.
The increase in mobile network connectivity has also been supplemented by the Universal Service Fund (USF) kitty, which tasks telcos to pull resources and offer coverage to underserved, unserved, and geographically challenging parts of Kenya.
This tight policing of the industry has seen a notable reduction in the number of people and polling centres without mobile coverage (3G/4G).
Before the last polls, 94.4 percent of the population was under 2G coverage.
5.6 percent of the population had no access to mobile networks or any other coverage for that matter.
78 percent of the population had access to 3G networks.
More than 5600 out of more than 7000 sublocations had 2G or 3G access.
An estimation of over 11,000 IEBC’s Polling Stations had no 3G Network Covered by 3G hence challenges of transmission of presidential election results in 2017 – The CA
Technology moves fast, and five years later, things have changed. For instance. 96.6 percent of the Kenya population has access to 2G network. This represents 56.5 percent of the total Kenya area.
Even better is the fact that more than 96.3 percent of the population has access to 3G and 4G coverage, representing 56.3% of the Kenya area.
Back in early 2021, the CA and IEBC officials met to discuss several aspects relating to the preparedness for tomorrow’s polls.
Later during the year, the CA established a Technical Committee, which included representatives from the Authority, mobile network operators (MNOs), and the IEBC. They met to discuss the appropriate mechanisms that could be used to determine the status of network coverage across all pilling centres in Kenya.
The CA, for instance, deployed the ArcGIS tool, which uses the network coverage shape-files from the MNOs to determine 3G/4G network coverage based on the GPS coordinates prided by IEBC.
The Committee also employed inputs from specific network coverage mapping analysis by the individual MNOs, and the results from the mapping tools were compared and matched to produce the final results.
The report generated from the assessment determined that there were more than 27K polling centres with GPS data. Only 26.2K of them have 3G/4G coverage, and 1,111 of them do not have access to mobile networks. The 1,111 polling centers are spread across 34 counties (13 counties have all their polling stations covered).
Also, the polling centers without coverage have a total of 398,483 people.
The IEBC has since deployed satellite modems to the 1111 centres for polling data and results transmission.
The IEBC has contracted at least two service providers per polling station to support data transmission /redundancies. MNOs have a modem inserted on the KIEMs kits for this exact purpose.
The MNO’s role will be to support data transmission via modems (3G/4G). The said KIEMs kits, which are managed by the IEBC and Smartmatic, will be locked to specific polling stations via a QR code specific to them.
KIEMs Kits has a dedicated network linked to the Bomas of Kenya.
MNOs also have a dedicated wide pipe to the Bomas of Kenya that will serve as the national tallying centre.
The CA says it will guarantee that spectrum is available, has prepared MNOs to sustain services, and offer bigger bandwidth provided.
Regarding regulations, it says that no licenses have been withdrawn from operators.
Finally, the CA has allocated MNOs Numbering Destination Code for purposes of Election data transmission only. The numbers have been set aside for purposes of elections only. The numbers will be switched off and will only be used for future elections in Kenya.