Kenyans have joined the 5G train, all thanks to its largest telecommunications operator Safaricom which introduced the high-speed technology for the first time in the country on Thursday.
According to Reuters, this development makes Safaricom the first firm to roll out the service commercially in the East Africa region.
A new era
The 5G service, which is backed by Nokia and Huawei, is said to be a central part of Safaricom’s attempts to further expand its data business to counter slower growth in voice revenues, as the company aims to target residences and commercial offices in areas that are not currently served by its fibre network.
“The 5G network heralds the era of intelligent connectivity and will be a key driver of this strategy by enabling us to build on the investments and successes of the last two decades to catapult Safaricom to the next level as we enable digital lifestyles of Kenyans,” Safaricom CEO Peter Ndegwa was quoted to have said at the launch ceremony.
According to a report by Kenyan local media, Safaricom subscribers who want to use the 5G service will need to acquire new 5G-compatible handsets before they can enjoy the super-fast internet, which offers much faster data download and upload speeds that ultimately ease network congestion.
Customers in Nairobi, Kisumu, Kisii, Kakamega and Nakuru with 5G-enabled devices can start to enjoy the service from Thursday. Currently spread across 35 sites, Ndegwa said the firm will expand to 200 sites by next year. According to Business Daily Africa, other regions with access to the 5G network are Kiambu, Machakos, Kajiado, Kisumu, Mombasa, Kisii and Kakamega.
Accessibility of the 5G service might be problematic for most Kenyans. Ndegwa said only about 200,000 — out of nearly 27 million smartphones in use in Kenya — are 5G-compatible, citing the high costs of such devices.
He, however, said companies such as Safaricom are expanding their financing models to create more access which will, in turn, bring down the prices.
The race for 5G
The decision of Safaricom to introduce 5G service in Kenya, where it controls a 65% share of the mobile data market, follows a pattern of telcos deploying the technology across different African countries.
It is safe to say 5G is on the rise in the continent, albeit slowly. As of May this year, fourteen African nations were actively testing 5G networks. Analysts predict that 5G service will add $2.2 trillion to Africa’s economy by 2034.
Since South Africa spearheaded the 5G journey in Africa, other countries have followed suit, though not all have gone commercial.
In August, MTN launched its commercial 5G network in Nigeria. A month after, Vodacom introduced 5G mobile service in Dar es Salaam with plans to roll it out to about 230 places in additional cities. More recently, Airtel Africa Plc announced that it has acquired an additional spectrum in Tanzania for a whopping $60.1 million.
Over time, experts have raised concerns about the growth prospects of 5G in Africa, considering the fact the continent has the lowest number of internet connections. Also, the continent grapples with poverty, barring many Africans from being able to afford 5G-enabled smartphones.
The road to a 5G-driven Africa is bumpy.
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