Safaricom and Airtel are set to begin mobile money interoperability testing in Kenya – a move tipped to be a large step towards increased competition in the sector.

Business Daily reported the two companies will begin a pilot using employees next week with plans to eventually open the service to consumers and, once individual deals are signed, other operators.

Full interoperability between service providers will mean customers of any mobile money service will be able to instantly transfer funds to users of another brand. Currently, recipients must collect money transferred to them from a participating agent.

Mobile money interoperability is widely thought to be among the main recommendations in a report commissioned by the Communications Authority of Kenya (CA) into stimulating competition in the sector. The country’s politicians have also talked-up the advantages of the policy over the last 12 months.

The deal has been a long-time coming, with conflicting statements in 2017 claiming a binding deal had been reached and then later saying talks had broken down.

Earlier in January, the CA was under-fire from Safaricom’s rival operators for failing to curb the dominance of the market leader, which held an 81 per cent share of the mobile money market at end-September 2017.

Kenya’s drive to enable instant transfers follows several other African countries which have already introduced the policy including Tanzania and Magdagascar, which have had complete interoperability of services since 2016.