In early 2020, Safaricom was spotted testing 5G network in partnership with tech giant Huawei. Kenya’s largest telco has probably been testing 5G since 2018. It is worth noting that they were the first telco to bring 4G network to Kenya in December 2014.

The company continued testing 5G by increasing test sites across the country to 200 and finally launched it for the public in October of last year and had been the sole 5G network provider since then. In February this year, Airtel announced that they had acquired 5G spectrum to fully roll out 5G in Kenya and that they will target specific towns in the country in the public rollout.

As of this month, Kenya has close to 300,000 users connected to 5G according to the CA. The regulator didn’t specify which of the 300K users are on which network but we can assume that those are Safaricom users.

5G is the fifth generation of wireless network generation and its main theme is speed which is significantly faster and more capable than its predecessors. To take advantage of 5G, you need a 5G device and of course a 5G network.

5G brings with it benefits like boundless connectivity in terms of high speed, secure and reliable internet for homes and enterprises, boosting tech innovation thanks to the opportunities for tech startups, enabling the digital transformation of enterprises including supporting Industry 4.0 goals, supporting massive IoT connections, enhanced mobile broadband that supports cloud and AI-based services.

5G networks went commercial in 2019 in South Korea and the U.S. and have since expanded to 220 commercial 5G networks worldwide. As of January, China leads the pack with 356 cities under 5G, while the United States has 296 and the Philippines closes the top three with 98 cities.

Mobile is huge in Africa which has 1.2 billion mobile connections across the continent with over 650 million unique mobile users making the 5G upgrade necessary for consumers, enterprises, governments and society.

5G is predicted to impact various industry sectors – from retail, agriculture and manufacturing and is forecasted that by the end of this decade, it will contribute $26 billion to the continent’s economy.

The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the adoption of 5G across Africa. Close to 28 countries out of 54 have 5G with over half of them rolling out commercially and the rest in the trial phase as of this month. Most telcos use either the low-band spectrum or the mid-band spectrum.

We have Kenya, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Uganda, Mauritius, Nigeria, South Africa, Zambia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Egypt, Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, Gabon, Lesotho, Madagascar, Senegal, Mozambique, Malawi, Republic of Congo, Niger, Tunisia, Algeria, Libya, Morocco, Mali and Benin.

There’s a strong demand for high-speed connectivity, especially with the youth who are data-hungry when it comes to consuming multimedia content(video streaming, music, gaming, live sports, cloud storage), mobile and cloud-based gaming.

5G rollout has had its challenges too including limited 5G network coverage, and the high cost of 5G devices and most of them are satisfied with the previous 4G and 3G networks.

The future is looking bright as mobile operators and enterprises are working together to unlock 5G’s superior capabilities. There’s a sizeable market opportunity which heavily depends on policies that enable network investments which include regulators availing more spectrum for faster 5G adoption.

Many phone makers are rushing in releasing affordable 5G devices to allow customers to connect to the network. In the past, 5G devices were limited to flagships and midrange devices above $500 but companies like TECNO, Infinix, Xiaomi and Samsung have 5G-capable devices under $350.

Kenyan telco Safaricom aldso announced dedicated 5G data bundles early last week They also have Home 5G Wi-Fi for customers that do not have access to Home Fibre but want to use the product anyway. Home 5G Wi-Fi uses Safaricom’s 5G network with the package starting at Ksh 3500.

Differences Between Safaricom Home Fibre, 4G Wi-Fi and 5G Wi-Fi

It’s worth noting that 4G was already dominant in other parts of the world when 5G launched – in Africa, 4G was still rolling out past major cities and most telcos in the continent are prioritizing expanding 4G services instead of getting on the 5G bandwagon.

It is still imperative for Africa to keep up with the global 5G adoption which can be done using the phased approach which is a sustainable way to ensure consumers and enterprises enjoy enhanced connectivity.

Scaling 5G across Africa will still need collaborations between stakeholders which includes cost-effective network deployment, partnerships between consumers and enterprises to bring relevant localized use cases, and coming up with programs that make 5G devices more affordable for the mass market.

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