Safaricom is Set to Launch Africa’s third 5G Network, but could Kenyans Afford it?

Telco giant, Safaricom launches East Africa's first 5G service in Kenya

African telecom giant, Safaricom is expected to roll out its 5G network in Kenya on Friday 26th March, 2021. The new development comes a year after the operator had started testing the service in the country.

Safaricom’s 5G launch will see it become the third telecom operator to fully deploy the network in Africa, after Vodacom and MTN unveiled their 5G networks in South Africa last year.

Safaricom will be the first operator in East Africa to launch 5G services and will be showcasing the capabilities of the network with the aid of Huawei and Nokia’s technologies.


The Communications Authority of Kenya (CAK) has allocated the necessary spectrum for Safaricom’s 5G network which is set to launch in Nairobi and Western Kenya.

Recall that Technext had predicted in a previous post that African countries such as Kenya seemed ready to deploy 5G on a commercial scale in 2021.

While the latest generation of cellular networks promises superfast wireless mobile connectivity for Safaricom subscribers, will Kenyans be able to afford it?

Internet Affordability: Kenya Ranks 5th in SSA

As Safaricom deploys its 5G network, data plans are expected to be much more expensive compared to 4G, raising the question of affordability for over 38 million subscribers.

Kenya consumes more internet data than Ghana, but less than South Africa and Nigeria

According to the Inclusive Internet Index 2020 report by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), Kenya ranks 5th below Nigeria, South Africa, Ghana and Cameroon in terms of internet affordability.

Kenya trails these four countries based on the cost of access relative to income and the level of competition in the internet marketplace.

For instance, Safaricom’s 1gb monthly data in Kenya costs $0.9, which is cheaper than MTN’s $9.97 tariff for the same amount of data in South Africa. However, Kenya’s minimum wage stands at $123.61 compared to South Africa’s $1,045, resulting in an index of 136.7, higher than South Africa’s 104.81.

Therefore, Kenyans generally have lower purchasing power to subscribe to data plans every month. Only a tiny fraction of subscribers will be able to pay for Safaricom’s incoming 5G data tariffs.

Only 20% of Kenyans Use Smartphones

Of over 50 million mobile network subscriptions in Kenya, there are just over 10 million smartphone connections, according to Newzoo’s 2019 Global Mobile Market report.

Nigerians Consume Over 80 million Gigabytes of Data per Month Despite Paying More

Only a handful of smartphones officially available in Kenya are equipped with a 5G chip, and subscribers have to purchase these high-end devices to leverage the high-speed network.

Some of these 5G phones are the latest releases from Samsung and Apple such as the iPhone 12 Pro/Pro Max and Samsung S21 series with the Exynos 2100.

Since only smartphones can access 4G network, it can be inferred that only about 20% of mobile subscribers can even afford 4G-enabled devices in the country. Invariably, that estimate would be much lower when it comes to 5G smartphones.

Although Safaricom’s 5G roll out marks a big step for the advancement of the network on the continent, its subscribers in Kenya should be ready to pay more for internet data and connectivity.

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