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Kenya’s Safaricom launches 5G network; first in the region

Today, Safaricom has announced the launch of 5G technology trials for its customers In Kenya. The trial will begin with both individual and enterprise customers in Nairobi, Kisumu, Kisii and Kakamega. This trial makes Safaricom the first operator to offer 5G services in the region, and the third mobile network operator in Africa, after Vodacom and MTN unveiled their 5G networks in South Africa last year.

As part of its trial, the company plans to expand to more than 150 5G sites across nine towns over the next 12 months. The primary objective during the trial period will be to ensure customers can enjoy speeds of up to 700 Megabits per second (Mbps), with plans to offer more than 1,000 Mbps in the coming months.

Safaricom has seen web data revenue grow more than three times over the past five years from  Ksh17.9 billion ($160m) in 2015 when it launched its 4G network to Ksh49.6 billion ($450m) last year. 

“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. At Safaricom, 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,” said Peter Ndegwa, CEO, Safaricom.

Safaricom has chosen Nokia and Huawei as the two technology partners to implement the roll-out of Safaricom’s 5G network. For mobile internet customers, the service will be available on only select 5G smartphones from Samsung, Huawei and Nokia. The company has also revealed plans to later increase 5G internet speeds beyond 1,000 Mbps in later stages of the trial.

5G can support up to 1 million connected devices per square kilometre compared to 4G which can only support up to 100,000 connected devices in a similar area. This makes 5G suitable for providing super-fast internet speeds in high-density areas and for linking thousands of connected devices such as in manufacturing and supply chain management for businesses. 

For the half-year ended September 30, 2020, Safaricom reported mobile data revenue of $203.7 million, a 14.1% increase spurred by an increase in monthly active mobile data subscribers. However, voice revenue reduced by 6.5% to $368.7 million due to the rise in the use of data-based voice services such as WhatsApp. The launch of this 5G trial could help maintain the growth in mobile data revenue.

While Safaricom hasn’t mentioned the data plan prices, 5G data plans are expected to be much more expensive compared to 4G, raising the question of affordability for over 38 million internet subscribers in Kenya.

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