Airtel Kenya Prepares 5G Switch to Rival Safaricom

Over 600 sites are 5G-ready

Being an early adopter of the fifth generation of cellular networks, or 5G, Safaricom is positioned to become the first choice for consumers wishing to test the new network. Meanwhile, Airtel Kenya is also preparing to take on Safaricom. The telco said Tuesday that it had upgraded hundreds of its sites to be 5G-ready.

Over 600 sites are now 5G-ready in Nairobi, Mombasa and Malindi, said Airtel Kenya managing director Prasanta Das Sarma in an interview.

But the telco is yet to switch 5G on in these sites. He said, “We don’t have to make any further modifications to the network. We will just get the spectrum and decide when to switch on.”

Airtel Kenya has been working with Nokia and Ericsson to upgrade its existing sites to be ready for 5G since last year. In October, the telco penned a deal with Ericsson, a Swedish multinational networking and telecommunications firm, to enhance and prepare its 4G network for 5G.

A month later, it inked a deal with Finnish telco equipment maker Nokia to boost its 4G network’s quality and future-proof the network for 5G in Nairobi.

“We are excited to partner with Nokia on this project. Its technology portfolio improves our network quality considerably and also allows us to move to 5G services in the future,” P. D. Sarma, CEO, Airtel Kenya.

Airtel Kenya 5G Launch

With 600 5G -ready sites, more than rival Safaricom, you’d expect Airtel Kenya to switch its network sooner, but that won’t be the case, at least as of now. Airtel has no rush in switching to 5G.

Citing high prices of 5G-compatible handsets, the telco plans to switch on its 5G network in one to two years. The expected wait is to buy time for budget 5G devices to be readily available.

Today, the number of 5G-ready smartphones in the country is low. Paired with the higher prices, it’s hard for most customers to afford the devices.

“We feel that a reasonable price will start coming in one and a half to two years,” Mr. Sarma said.

“That is the time we feel we will be able to switch on our 5G network. But if things happen faster, we are ready for it,” he added.

Safaricom launched its first public 5G network trials in March, after pushing forward the initial 2020 launch timeline. Safaricom 5G is, however, only available in Nairobi, Kisumu, Kisii, and Kakamega. The telco has plans to expand its coverage to over 150 sites in one year across nine towns.

During the ongoing trials, the telco targets speeds of up to 700Mbps (Megabits per second). In the coming months, it plans to step up the speeds to 1000Mbps.

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Alvin Wanjala

Alvin Wanjala has been writing about technology for over 2 years. He writes about different topics in the consumer tech space. He loves streaming music, programming, and gaming during downtimes.

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