Are You Ready For The Internet Enabled TV Set Top Box?

With our recent post on Nation Media Group, Standard Group and Royal Media Services planning to introduce Internet Enabled Set Top Boxes in the country, I got a couple of emails and inboxes on social media asking me how these gadgets would be working. With the first order of 150,000 internet-ready set top boxes set to arrive in less than 3 weeks, you need to be well-informed before making a choice on whether to purchase one or not.

Internet-enabled TV set top boxes (I-STBs) allow users to watch streaming media from the internet on their standard television sets. There are two types of I-STBs:

  • Dedicated I-STBs – they provide streaming services only
  • Multifunctional I-STBs – provide streaming plus others services including gaming consoles and free to air TV.

According to a report published on a local daily, it is more likely that we will get the latter. Another supporting factor is that these media houses will have to forego additional costs to set up streaming services if they were to offer the former. Therefore, all factors point to the latter.

How does it Work?

When I first heard about this, I was amazed at the possibility of turning my HDTV in to a smart TV. I could access the internet with it. In fact, the closest that I could relate this idea to is Roku TV or the new entrant in media streaming, Chrome Cast. However, a closer look at all this streaming services reveals quite a lot that you and I will have to consider before we buy or attempt to buy these Internet Enabled Set Top Boxes.

First, the internet costs will be unbearable to many. The ISPs in Kenya offer their internet services expensively. In fact, the ‘unlimited’ internet services that they claim to offer at around Ksh3,500 are not really unlimited.  This means that anybody who wants to enjoy streaming on his or her ISTB will have to go for Faiba or satellite internet services, similar to the one offered by Access Kenya or Yahsat. The bad news is that you will have to part with anything between Ksh5,000 and 10,000 in subscription fees per month. This is in addition to initial equipment installation charges that range from Ksh15,000 to Ksh25,000.

What Kind of Channels Will I Be Streaming?

If this set-top box is anything similar to Roku TV, then we should understand that despite the fact that it allows your TV to connect to the internet, you will only stream channels and movies and not browse the web. I-STBs are programmed in a manner that they allow users to connect directly to Internet TV broadcasters and access their streaming channels.

You will therefore enjoy programs from Hulu TV, Amazon TV, HBO and many others. At present, the likes of Hulu, Amazon, rdio, Pandora, Netflix, ESPN, ABC and many other streaming channels do not allow users from outside the united states. If you live in the country, the best you can do with the set to box is to watch YouTube, which is availed almost everywhere…

Do I Have To Pay To Watch The Channels?

Even if these channels were to connect, another factor that would surface is that they are not free. You can get movie rentals from $1 per movie while streaming channels charges range from $9 (Ksh775) to $99 (Ksh8515) per month depending on the package you choose. This is way out of reach to many Kenyans.

For those who are not ready to pay for streaming TV, yet still want to get these set top boxes, there are some free to air channels for you to enjoy. The negative side is that, they may only be a few. These set top boxes are offered by three media houses, Nation Media Group (NMG), Royal Media Services (RMS) and Standard Group (SG), which are companies that have disputed with the CA (Communication Authority of Kenya) over allocation of their own frequencies. Currently, they have been allocated their own transmission frequencies, which means that they will not be able to air any other channels apart from their own content (NTV, KTN, Citizen TV and QTV). You might not be able to watch Signet Channels or any other free channels offered on Bamba TV.


Although the introduction of the Internet enabled set top boxes is positive news, it is bound to spell more problems than solutions. Unless we establish our own streaming channels and offer affordable internet connections, we are simply not ready for it.

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