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Airtel Kenya finally comes calling

NAIROBI, Kenya Nov 22 – Indian telecommunication giant Bharti Airtel has marked its formal entry into the Kenyan market with the re-branding of Zain to Airtel Kenya.

This marks the fourth name change for the country’s second largest operator since its entry into the market in 2000.

The operator entered the Kenyan wireless market as Kencell before changing to Celtel Kenya in 2004 and Zain Kenya in 2008.

The entry into Africa brings the fifth largest mobile operator’s business to 19 across Africa and Asia.

Speaking during the unveiling of the company’s new brand identity, Bharti Airtel Africa (English speaking countries) Chief Executive Officer Jayant Khosla said Airtel Kenya is going to leverage on technical expertise gained in India to make the operator the market leader in the next five years.

“We will be borrowing the Indian model based on responding to customer needs that ultimately meets their different needs,” Mr Khosla said.

Bharti Airtel aims to flex its muscle in the market with a well spelt out strategy with major focus on the lower-end of the market investing as much as Sh24 billion to upgrade its network.

The company has not hidden its desire to clinch market leadership with the International Chief Executive Manoj Kohli saying: “Bharti Airtel is about leadership. Whichever market we enter, we enter with a clear vision for leadership.”

The re-branding will be taking place simultaneously in 15 African countries where Bharti Airtel operates. It is however not clear how much is being spent in the name change.

“Obviously, it is going to be enough for us to reposition our new brand and take it to the hearts and minds of Kenyans,” Airtel Kenya Managing Director Rene Meza said adding it would be hard to quantify it since it was being done across all Bharti operations.

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In 2004, $30 million (Sh2.4 billion) was spent to re-brand from Kencell to Celtel. Four years later, it spent $40 (Sh3.2 billion) to re-brand from Celtel to Zain.

All Airtel Kenya future new products and services will follow the Airtel brand structure. In Kenya, just as in all other Airtel markets in Africa, the fast growing ZAP mobile money service has also been re-branded to Airtel Money with immediate effect.

Airtel Africa will set up its headquarters in Nairobi.

Bharti’s quarterly profit fell by 27 percent, weighed down slightly by its African acquisition with analysts saying lower margins in Africa could hit overall profitability in future quarters.

Mr Khosla however said profits at the company would pick up as soon as more customers make the switch to the Airtel brand.

“For us profitability is not the goal. For us that is a consequence of what happens in the market place and what our business model is all about. We have a very cost effective business plan that has worked well for us over the years,” he said.

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