Kenya’s leading telecommunications service provider Safaricom on Thursday, October 27, launched the first fifth-generation (5G) network in the country, pioneering the commercial rollout of the revolutionary technology in East Africa.

Safaricom customers in Nairobi, Kisumu, Kisii, Kakamega and Nakuru with 5G-enabled devices started using the network on October 27 that is spread across 35 sites, with the company’s Chief Executive Peter Ndegwa saying the firm will expand to 200 sites by next year.

“Customers in 5G-ready areas can now enjoy fast and reliable internet connectivity for their homes and their businesses,” Mr Ndegwa said during the launch in Nairobi.

“Plans are underway to provide 5G data packages for mobile internet, which will be ready by December, but the home ones will be ready immediately.” 

Home and business customers who confirm the network’s availability in their area could pay up to Sh25,000 for a 5G router from Safaricom and a set-up fee of Sh5,000, with the company announcing a three-tier introductory tariff.

These include 10mbps with a cap of 300GB that will go for Sh3,499, 40mbps limited at 500GB at Sh5,999 and 100mbps capped at 1TB priced at Sh14,999.

The introductory pricing will be valid for the first six months of the service.

Currently, there are 200,000 5G-enabled smartphones on Safaricom’s network out of 42.4 million subscribers and the company anticipates that the cost of devices will fall in future to drive uptake and revenues. 

“The reason we have very low penetration of 5G handsets is because of cost, and we see that cost coming down quite significantly,” Mr Ndegwa said.

Safaricom’s 5G network has been built by Huawei with Chinese telecoms giant stating it is looking forward to a partnership in accelerating deployment across several sectors.

“Huawei is the world’s biggest 5G manufacturer and last year in China we had more than 2.2 million sites and in Kenya now we have about 100, but I think the scaling process will be very fast,” said Huawei Kenya CEO Will Meng.

“We have three 5G innovation centres with Safaricom and I think we will find more use cases in agriculture, education and many other areas.”

The adoption of 5G is still in the nascent stage across the world, with countries such as the US, Germany, South Korea and China at advanced stages of commercial deployment.

Safaricom’s 4G coverage currently stands at 97 per cent of the country and is expected to remain the dominant network for the majority of subscribers for a better part of the next decade.

Earlier this year, mobile network operator Airtel Kenya announced an investment of Sh4.7 billion in the additional spectrum as part of its 5G rollout plans.

The firm said it acquired the 60MHz licence in the 2600 MHz band from the Communications Authority of Kenya valid from July 2022 to 2037.

“This additional spectrum will support our 4G network capacity expansion in the market for both mobile data and fixed wireless home broadband capability, and will allow for future 5G rollout, providing significant capacity to accommodate our continued strong data growth in the country,” Airtel Kenya said in a statement.

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