Safaricom joins the race to bring 5G to Africa

Safaricom joins the race to bring 5G to Africa

News reports from Kenya indicate that the country is edging closer to 5G rollout. The early indications are that leading operator Safaricom, pioneer of mobile money and the dominant force in the market, with close to two thirds of all subscribers, will be the first company to launch 5G.

Safaricom has not only suggested that it will this year launch Kenya’s first fifth-generation mobile internet services but that the initial focus will be mainly on major urban centres. This will make Safaricom the first operator to offer such services in the East African region. Admittedly ZTE and MTN Uganda recently jointly launched the first 5G SA network in East Africa but this appears to have been a showcase rather than a commercial launch.

Safaricom's acting CEO Michael Joseph told the press that the company had completed testing and trials for the 5G network. The company’s aim is to capitalise on burgeoning mobile internet use in the country, not least because of slowing growth in voice calls revenue. It was in fact reported last year that fellow operator Airtel Kenya had boosted its subscriber base after a period of sustained cheaper tariffs, possibly eating into Safaricom’s numbers.

That said, figures quoted by the press indicate that Safaricom’s web data revenue has grown fourfold over the past five years to approximately $377 million, overtaking sales growth from its voice business. Thus 5G could boost any attempts to expand its data business in what is a sizeable market. GSMA Intelligence figures indicate that mobile coverage has increased to 96 per cent of the population.

Of course the continuing use of 3G and growth of 4G in the country means that subscriber take-up of 5G – requiring expensive new handsets – is unlikely to happen overnight. Also, at the moment Safaricom’s choice of vendor partner or partners is unknown.