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Safaricom to roll out 5G to smartphone customers in coming weeks

5G is currently only available for Fixed Wireless customers


Safaricom 5G: In July this year, Ericsson released a new report on the state of 5G in Sub-Saharan Africa. The report had some interesting insights projecting that 5G mobile subscriptions in the region will exceed t 70 million in 2026.

The report featured breakout statistics from Sub-Saharan African markets where around 15 percent of mobile subscriptions were for 4G at the end of 2020. 

In Kenya, local telcos have been gearing to roll out this 5th generation mobile network. In March this year, for example, Safaricom launched its first public 5G network trials in select parts across the country.

Safaricom said 5G is now available in Nairobi, Kisumu, Kisii and Kakamega in the first phase of trials. At the launch, the telco said it plans to expand 5G sites to more than 150 across nine towns over the next 12 months. The trials aimed to establish if the network can offer speeds of up to 700 Megabits per second.

“Today marks a major milestone for the country. With 5G, we aim to empower our customers with super-fast internet at work, at home and when on the move, supplementing our growing fibre network,” Peter Ndegwa, CEO, Safaricom said at the launch.

“We are proud to be the first in the country and the region to bring this latest innovation to both our retail and enterprise customers empowering them to start exploring new opportunities that 5G provides,” he added.

What followed next was a number of smartphone companies unveiling 5G-enabled phones in the market. I have the Nokia X20 5G for example which I have been using for more than a month now but haven’t been able to identify a 5G zone in Nairobi. Samsung last month unveiled some new foldable 5G Phones and on Monday OPPO also launched its first 5G device in the local market, the OPPO Reno6 5G

When Safaricom rolled out the trials, it just mentioned the towns or cities but did not specify precise locations where I can carry my phone to actually go experience 5G. This is because the telco only rolled out the trials to Fixed Wireless customers in the covered areas. At least that’s according to a response I got when I asked for an update from them on their Twitter page on Tuesday. 

‘’…the service is currently available for Fixed Wireless customers in covered areas’’  the company said. 

If you have a 5G enabled phone like me it means you will have to wait longer. Safaricom says it plans to gradually roll out the service for smartphone customers in the coming weeks. Hopefully that happens soon but as it stands, coverage is very limited.  

There are no special 5G bundles mentioned as of now, but I think it’s necessary. 5G provides blazing fast speeds in comparison to 4G. A simple speed test alone can easily consume 1GB+ of data. So while it’s plausible for the company to introduce 5G, its current data plans might hinder potential users from jumping on the train. 5G creates a need for unlimited data. Hopefully, as we have mentioned in a previous article the company will be able to look into that as it plans to roll out the network. 

Airtel Kenya Airtel Kenya preparing to take on Safaricom on 5G

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Airtel Kenya CEO Prasanta Das

In an interview with Business Daily back in April Airtel Kenya Managing Director, Prasanta Das Sarma revealed that 600 of its sites are now 5G-ready in Nairobi, Mombasa, and Malindi.  

But the telco is yet to switch 5G on in these sites.

 “We don’t have to make any further modifications to the network. We will just get the spectrum and decide when to switch on,” he said. 

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.

With 600 5G -ready sites, more than rival Safaricom which had 15 sites when it launched the network in March, you’d expect Airtel Kenya to switch its network sooner, but that won’t be the case, at least as of now. Airtel said it 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.

“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.

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Nixon Kanali

Tech journalist based in Nairobi. I write about tech, business and African startups. Founder and Editor For TechTrendsKE. Nixon is also the East African tech editor for Africa Business Communities. Send tips to nkanali@techtrendske.co.ke.

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