Airtel Kenya and Telkom Kenya face licence delay following late deployment

Kenya’s telecom authorities look set to delay the issue of Airtel Kenya and Telkom Kenya’s 4G licences after both operators failed to meet deadlines for deploying 4G infrastructure and paying spectrum licence fees.

The Communications Authority of Kenya (CA) confirmed that neither operator has rolled out a 4G trial or handed over the KES2.5 billion ($24.9 million) 4G licence fee, although CA director general Francis Wangusi said that that both Airtel and Telkom Kenya (branded as Orange) “have indicated they have purchased the equipment, so we expect they will have them in place by March.”

Wangusi noted that by way of comparison, market leader Safaricom had paid all fees and last year began an initiative to more than double its number of 4G base stations from 500 to over 1000 by the end of 2017. “We have finalised the process and have agreed on licence conditions”, he stated.

The CA is aiming to have high-speed internet access available nationwide by March – a goal which will encompass switching from 3G to 4G networks. This will also allow operators to offer TV services via broadband. Safaricom and Airtel have had access to 4G spectrum since 2015 as part of a pilot scheme.

Airtel, which is Kenya’s second-largest operator, has stated that it intends to begin 4G testing next week, beginning with 40 sites in Nairobi and spreading to a further 45 across larger towns. However, it will be unable to do so without a 4G licence.

The operator’s managing director Adil El Youssefi has separately confirmed that Airtel Kenya will not be sold off by parent firm Bharti Airtel, in light of previous comments from Sunil Bharti Mittal. The group’s chairman recently stated that the firm was looking to sell off or merge some of its African operations in order to cut its $12 billion debt.

Youssefi stated that Airtel Kenya “remains committed to competing in the Kenyan market and providing choice to Kenyans by further investing in the rollout of 4G services in the next few months, and the continued expansion of its network coverage to ensure consistent delivery of quality and value for money services to its customers.”

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