Safaricom started teasing 5G more than one year ago.
The service has since gone live, but the development was more of an announcement than a mass roll-out.
The carrier said it was developing a number of base stations in Nairobi, Western Kenya, Rift Valley and the Coast, with the official use of the network expected before the year ends or by 2022.
Several questions have been asked by enthusiasts who want to know which bands the ultra-fast 5G connection from the nation’s leading operator will use. And as expected, the carrier has not been upfront about most of the 5G technologies that are under development, but that will not remain unknown for long.
Techweez Forums are an interesting place, and in a thread titled ‘Safaricom 5G Trials in Kenya’, enthusiasts have attempted to unmask the connection [you can scroll to the last posts if the thread is too long to follow].
The basic unmasking has been done for several reasons, including the determination of 5G bands so users can know which 5G-capable phones to buy and whether there are 5G signals within Nairobi or other areas outside the metropolitan.
Looking at the forum contributions, here are some of the things we have learned so far:
- It is very possible that Safaricom will be using 3.5 GHz frequency for 5G services.
- The service is live in some spots within the city, but you have to hunt for a signal to establish this development.
- Users have determined that some devices such as the recently launched Xiaomi Redmi Note 10 5G are supporting Safaricom 5G. The market, of course, is served by other 5G-powered phones that are officially sold in Kenya, including the iPhone 12 lineup, the Galaxy S20 and S21 series, and some Nokia (X10, X20) – but all of these support a variety of bands, and we have not seen any reports from users who have connected to 5G using them. Still, we are fairly certain that they will be supported.
- Location: some users have reported a connection along the Southern Bypass. However, expected spots such as the CBD, Thika Road and Ngong’ Road do not appear to have a connection. Waiyaki Way is, nonetheless, the only area that is sporadically covered, with signals near Safaricom HQ, which is not surprising because that was the first place that media tests were done. This was established using nperf.com.
- Safaricom appears to be using carrier aggregation (5G + 4G signals)
- Speed test: tests near Safaricom HQ maxed out at 280 Mbps (down), but the tester did not manage to get a screen grab.
- Data consumption: Speed tests consume a lot of data, and with a 1.5 GB allocation, and 3 to 4 tests, the tester had already depleted the bundles. So that is something to keep in mind, but Safaricom had mentioned that it is planning to release 5G bundles that we hope will be good on the pocket.
Note that the tester who used the service did not need to get a new SIM to connect to 5G, which aligns with what Safaricom had said earlier. This is good because, unlike 4G, customers will not need to replace their SIMs to get 5G.