MTN continues 5G dominance in Africa with Zambia launch

Godfrey Elimian
The goal, it says, is to gradually roll out the 5G network to other areas while achieving 100% 5G coverage in Lusaka, Kitwe, and Ndola by the middle of 2023.
MTN Zambia launches 5G network in Zambia, after South Africa and Nigeria
MTN Zambia launches 5G network in Zambia, after South Africa and Nigeria

MTN has launched its 5G network in Zambia, becoming the first mobile operator to offer 5G services commercially in the country. The telecommunications giants continue to provide 5G services across Africa following successful launches in South Africa and Nigeria,

The leading mobile services provider in Zambia launched its fifth-generation mobile network after completing the 11-month-long trial of the revolutionary technology, enabling consumers to have fast-paced and indestructible internet speed.

According to Bart Hofker, the CEO of MTN Zambia, the services cover approximately 65% of the population in Lusaka, Kitwe, and Ndola, as well as parts of Chingola, Solwezi, and Kalumbila. 

MTN Zambia launches the country’s first 5G network
MTN Zambia launches the country’s first 5G network

MTN’s 5G services, which follow 5G trials over the past 11 months, have been activated to cover about 65% of the population in the cities of Lusaka, Kitwe and Ndola as well as parts of Chingola, Solwezi and Kalumbila – about 15% of the whole country’s population.

The goal, it says, is to gradually roll out the 5G network to other areas while achieving 100% 5G coverage in Lusaka, Kitwe, and Ndola by the middle of 2023.

MTN CEO Ralph Mupita commenting on the launch in a relatively new market like Zambia, said that, “we see great opportunities across various sectors, and in the mining industry in particular”—possibly as a nod to private network rollouts.

He also mentioned that MTN Zambia was the group’s third operation in Africa to roll out commercial 5G services – after previous launches in South Africa in June 2020 and Nigeria in September 2022.

“5G can transform business and livelihoods beyond simple connectivity, with the potential to unlock many new use cases. In Zambia, we see great opportunities across many sectors, and in the mining industry in particular,” he said.

MTN Huawei partners to launch 5G in Zambia
MTN Huawei partners to launch 5G in Zambia

President Hakainde Hichilema of Zambia thanked MTN and Huawei for making Zambia’s first-ever 5G network possible during a formal ceremony to mark the milestone.

More on the Zambia 5G launch

MTN began operations in Zambia in 2005 after acquiring Telecel and now offers communications services in all ten provinces, including 4G, 3G, and 2G networks.

In January, the telecoms giant became the first telco in the country to launch a 5G network pilot that promised significantly improved technology with faster connectivity speed, ultra-low latency and greater bandwidth.

The pilot launch was announced in a partnership with Chinese ICT giant Huawei to roll out 5G pilot demonstration sites in Lusaka and Copperbelt Provinces. According to the Zambian government, the launch put Zambia among the first ten countries in Africa to pilot 5G technology.

MTN Zambia pilots 5G launch
MTN Zambia pilots 5G launch

MTN Zambia describes the rollout of 5G as a component of a larger network strategy that also includes the modernization and optimization of current 3G and 4G networks, the construction of a fibre ring in Zambia with MTN GlobalConnect, and expanding coverage to more remote locations.

This launch represents a significant market coup for the second-biggest mobile operator in Zambia, with around 7.1 million mobile subscribers against Airtel Zambia’s total of nearly 7.9 million subscribers, according to market research firm Omdia.

MTN Zambia may not be the country’s sole 5G player for long, however. In October Airtel Zambia purchased 60MHz of additional spectrum spread across the 800MHz and 2600MHz bands for around US$29 million. It plans to use the spectrum for expanding its mobile and fixed services, which will include a 5G rollout.

Read also: “5G is 10 times faster than what we have” | Experts discuss 5G launch on Twitter Spaces

5G expansion across Africa

In Africa, 4G is still growing, and 5G is on the operators’ radar. A small number of nations have now followed South Africa, which was the first in the area to introduce 5G service, including Nigeria, Ethiopia, Zambia, the Seychelles, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Mauritius, Madagascar, and Togo.

MTN aims to become Africa's main 5G supplier
5G in Africa

5G coverage is still only available in major cities in these markets. Additionally, slightly over twenty operators are either planning, testing, or in the implementation phase of 5G technology. Regulators have begun to make spectrum for 5G available in several places.

The 5G era in Africa formally began in 2020 with the launch of commercial 5G mobile and fixed wireless access (FWA) services by two of the continent’s biggest mobile service providers, Vodacom and MTN, in South Africa.

Vodacom and MTN began 5G services ahead of schedule utilizing emergency, temporary spectrum allotted during the COVID-19 outbreak, even though the 5G spectrum auction was scheduled to end in March 2022.

To help operators overcome some of the difficulties they encountered in meeting the huge demand for data during COVID-19, the regulator released spectrum in April 2020.

Botswana Communications Regulatory Authority (BOCRA) gave both current and new operators a chance to apply for spectrum in the 5G frequency bands, which include low and mid-band spectrum, in February 2022. This enabled operators to bring out 5G and expand their current 4G networks.

Mascom inaugurated four 5G sites in the city of Gaborone shortly after, also in the same month, as part of its plans to roll out 111 sites throughout Botswana by the end of 2022.

Also, to assist in the deployment of 5G, the Communications Authority of Kenya (CA) created a roadmap.

MTN is a major player in Africa's 5G space
5G in Africa

The 3500 MHz band, which was once reserved for FWA networks in Kenya but reformed for 5G in June 2022, is being reallocated by CA. The 2600 MHz band, which was formerly utilized by security agencies but was released due to a change in the technologies those agencies employ, was given to Safaricom in May 2022 and has 60 MHz of spectrum.

Read also: Telco giant, Safaricom launches East Africa’s first 5G service in Kenya

Ethio Telecom, Ethiopia’s state-owned mobile provider, launched a 5G network service in Addis Ababa in May 2022.

The service will first be offered in the country’s capital, according to Ethio Telecom CEO Frehiwot Tamru, before expanding to other parts of the country. Tamru also stated at the launch event that the company plans to provide 150 5G connections around the country in the following year.

In September also, Airtel Africa Plc announced that it had acquired an additional spectrum in Tanzania. The Tanzania Communications Regulatory Authority (TCRA) sold the 140 megahertz spectrum split between 2600 and 3500 MHz bands to Airtel for $60.1 million.

This is to support network development for mobile data and fixed wireless home broadband capability, including 5G rollout, and to provide significant capacity to match the country’s sustained robust data growth.

In Nigeria, MTN and Mafab Communication received 100 MHz TDD in the 3.5 GHz frequency range in December 2021. The telcos were anticipated to start rolling out their 5G networks on August 24, 2022, following the terms and circumstances of the concessions.

As more nations on the continent adopt network coverage for 5G, it is expected to perform all the same functions as 4G, with the potential to do more and on a much larger scale. These functions include extremely fast download speeds, extremely low latency, and high levels of reliability, capacity, device density, flexibility, and spectral efficiency.


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