Can Safaricom Fix its Erratic and Sluggish STK Menu?

safaricom mpesa upgrade

A fair share of Kenyans use mobile money services. Particularly, Safaricom’s M-PESA users are in the excess of 21 million per CA’s statistics – which means millions of us have interacted with the conventional way the service is rendered, and that is via the sim toolkit (STK).

STK has been around for as long as I started using phones. It is a standard app that can be loaded on smart or dumb phones and has since allowed mobile operators to integrate extra information and functions on SIM cards. The STK’s user interface can be customized in a way a carrier deems fit so that users can have direct access to essential services provided by the telco, entertainment services or banks.

My experience with Safaricom’s STK has been good and functional, but it hit me a couple of days ago that its implementation is far from perfect. The discovery was noted after I tried Equitel’s STK for a couple of days and this is what I found out:

  • Safaricom’s STK is markedly slow. Don’t get me wrong: it works, yes, but the execution of tasks such as the opening of menus takes a couple of seconds. Contrastingly, Equitel’s is noticeably faster. I don’t know how I can explain this but you need to use the two services side by side to notice Safaricom’s sluggishness.
  • Perhaps the most issue is the flow of actions. I’m sure most of you have, say, tried to enter a pay bill number for a given service but incorrectly dialled a number of two. Alternatively, say you enter a wrong PIN number when performing a transaction. If you go back one step to rectify the error, Safaricom’s STK will take right back to the home page before prompting you to start the exercise again. It is frustratingly annoying. In contrast, Equitel’s STK works as directed, and will take you a step or two backward if you so wish.
  • The STK app is tiny and does not take any toll on a phone’s resources. Heck, it runs just fine on feature phones. Hence, the argument that Safaricom’s is bloated (admittedly, its implementation is full of other features in the Safaricom+ menu) does not it a pass to be slow because Equitel’s is equally feature-packed.

Of course, there are other statistical parameters that may impact these observations. For instance, Safaricom’s STK is accessed millions of times at any single time owing to the numbers it commands both in mobile money services and carrier business. In other words, it processes millions of commands, hence, the sluggishness – but does that mean a simple task like rolling back to the previous step shouldn’t do just that?

I’m yet to test Telkom Kenya’s, which I should as soon as it brings T-Kash to STK rather than the *160# access code.

What are your experiences? Do you think there is a way Safaricom can make their STK noticeably faster and efficient? Probably yes, but the current implementation is frustrating. Of course, its mySafaricom app is a better alternative (it continues to balloon sizewise though, perhaps due to the iterative updates that continue to see the integration of additional features), but it is still not as what the competition offers (My Telkom app), which is also a story for another day.



  1. Nice article, tho’ I’ve some other view I’d point out;
    1. “…it processes millions of commands, hence, the sluggishness”. Safaricom uses a static STK i.e. all menus reside in the sim until you reach the last step, usually pin entry. That’s when the sim submits your request to the network. So a sim can only process as many comands as the user of the phone can execute and does not translate to millions of requests processed by the network. So if an action has 5 steps, all the steps will be local to the phone then composed as an SMS which is what will be received by the network as a single instruction.
    2. T-kash was launched with a full-fledged STK so long as you have their new generation SIM (the 4G one). If you don’t you can swap for free. Actually, it’s called dstk (d for dynamic) which means some menus reside on the network and are dynamically retrieved. Only in this scenario can the number of requests perhaps affect the response. But then they might have factored that in their TPS. Because of this, it’s generally slower(downside of dstk). Upside is that menu update is quickly and uniform for all subscribers since it’s centrally done at the network
    3. Ability to go back to a previous menu instead of the root menu when you press the ” back” button is a feature which depends on how the applet in the sim is programmed
    4. Modern 4G SIMs probably have only a max memory of 258k. This can never be too heavy to take seconds to load. The issue is more likely with the phone than the SIM. I see somebody has pointed out in one of the comments tha it’s shitty in a dual SIM. I’ve a dual sim phone and both slots respond pretty promptly with any neywork’s SIM.


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