NAIROBI – A young woman sitting before a computer at a cybercafé in Nairobi, Kenya laughs heartily and gestures with her right hand, as if talking to herself. She then produces a photo from her bag and displays it before the computer screen. One would wonder if the woman, identified as Rosette was talking to herself. Rosette was in a deep conversation with someone, through the internet.

The cybercafé and tens of others in Kenya’s capital is among those offering Skype services, which enable people to converse with their loved ones, especially those out of the country at cheaper rates. Cybercafe operators in the East African nation are turning to Skype services to change fortunes of their businesses, which have dwindled because of wide-spread adoption of internet-enabled mobile phones and modems. “You must now offer Skype services if you want your business to flourish,” John Muashia, a cybercafé operator in the capital said on Sunday.

“This is the only service where you can make good money since charges for normal browsing have plummeted to 0.006 U.S dollars per minute,” he added. Muashia noted that competition in offering Skype services is still minimal in Kenya. Therefore, if one has reliable internet connection, where customers get best voice clarity, they will troop to his premises. “I am experiencing it and I can attest that since I started offering Skype calls about two months ago, my business has improved and the number of people who are in need of the service is growing,” he said.

Kenya got connected to the rest of the world through fibre- optic cable for the first time about three years ago. The number of undersea fibre-optic cable service providers has now grown to four, with the latest having been launched last month. These are East African Sub Marine System (EASSy) which runs from Sudan to South Africa, East Africa Marine System (TEAMS) from Kenya to United Arab Emirates, and SEACOM, from Kenya to South Africa.

The newest, Lower Indian Ocean Network (LION2) connects Kenya to Asia and Europe. The undersea cables have hastened connectivity speeds and reliability, which had been major hurdles in Kenya. Initially, businesses relied on satellite connectivity, which was slow, expensive and broke down regularly. Cybercafé operators in the East African nation are now cashing in on the faster internet connectivity to add value to their businesses through Skype. “I charge customers 0.04 dollars per minute for using Skype services.

This is fair compared to the other alternatives they have, like using mobile phones or landlines, whose costs are still higher. Besides that, for Skype, they can see the person they are talking to,” said Muashia. Muashia notes that Skype costs are low since the calls are made through the internet. “It is just like you are browsing normally, especially when you are making Skype to Skype calls. But for me, I do not charge differently even if the person is calling on a different telephone number, which is not Skype,” he said.

To use Skype, explained Muashia, a customer does not necessarily need to set up their own account. “What I do is that I have opened a guest account where customers log in and I charge them per minute for use. But there are others who have Skype accounts, which they also log in and use but they are few,” he said. Most of those who go to use Skype at his cybercafé have their kin out of the country. “They make calls to Europe, Asia, Middle East and America, but there are others who call their kin here in Africa, in countries like South Africa, Botswana, South Sudan and Rwanda, where Kenyans are,” he said.

Rosette, who was talking to her brother in Canada on Sunday, said she usually communicates with him on email first so that they can agree on a specific time they can talk on Skype. “We do that so that I can visit a cybercafé and I can find him online. This makes it easier for me since for him, he accesses Skype from his house,” she said. o start offering Skype services, David Ngunjiri, another cybercafé operator in Nairobi said he invested in webcams, head phones that have microphones and a faster internet connection.

“The venture is paying off since Skype is now one of my main sources of revenue. I still offer other services including internet browsing and printing but they do not bring in much,” he said. In a day, he makes between 30 dollars and 42 dollars, which according to the businessman is a great improvement. “Before I started offering Skype services, I was making not more than 18 dollars a day. This is because competition was tough, but with Skype, business has become better,” he said.

When mobile phone companies in the East African nation recently lowered costs of making calls to US, China and India, Ngunjiri feared this will affect his business. “Luckily it did not. This is because there are many Kenyans with their loved ones in others countries and the fact that with Skype you can see whom you are talking to, this has helped us to keep our customers,” he said. (Xinhua)

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