Kenya Lags in 5G Adoption in Africa, Forecasts Look Promising

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Safaricom 5G on Infinix Zero Ultra
Safaricom 5G on Infinix Zero Ultra

There has been significant progress in terms of 5G adoption not only in Kenya but across the continent in the past few months.

In Kenya alone, we’ve seen Safaricom and Airtel increase coverage nationwide.

Safaricom was the first telco to bring 5G to the country in October last year after several months in the testing phase. They have since increased coverage to 35 counties spreading from the coastal counties of Mombasa, Kilifi and Kwale to the northern county of Marsabit.

Safaricom not only cut the prices of their 5G wireless routers by 60% but also made their 5G data bundles even more affordable. The routers now cost Ksh 9,999 with 5G WiFi for Home Consumer starting at Ksh 3.499 for the 400GB bundle while the unlimited 5G WiFi for Business starts at Ksh 4,000(10Mbps).

Airtel which had a late start in the 5G race in the country announced its official rollout in July this year and has expanded its coverage to 32 counties in Kenya.

Its 5G data bundles start from as low as Ksh 3000 per month for the 10GB a day for home subscribers. 5G Unlimited business packages start from Ksh 3500(10Mbps) going all the way to Ksh 7500(50Mbps) per month. Their 5G router is still available for Ksh 10,000.

Airtel 5G Wifi Router
Airtel 5G Wifi Router

In terms of subscriber numbers, Safaricom reports that over 500,000 consumers are using 5G smartphones to browse on their network. Airtel has yet to report its official numbers – but we’ll update once we get official numbers from them.

In the past, 5G devices were limited to flagships and midrange devices above $500 but companies like TECNO, Infinix, and Xiaomi now have 5G-capable devices under $350.

Device manufacturers in partnership with chip makers and telcos have been working to launch affordable 5G smartphones.  The fabless semiconductor company, MediaTek has been leading at that forefront.

Kenya is the 3rd largest country in Africa when it comes to the continent’s mobile phone market ranking with 5 million smartphones shipped annually. Some of the best 5G smartphones in the country are powered by MediaTek’s Dimensity chipsets – ranging from the flagships to the midrange smartphones.

In the country, the Dimensity 9000+ powers the TECNO Phantom V Fold and the OPPO Find N2 Flip, the Dimensity 9000 for the TECNO Phantom X2 Pro, the Dimensity 8050 for the TECNO Phantom V Flip, the Dimensity 8020 for the Infinix Zero 30 5G and the Dimensity 9200+ for the Xiaomi 13T Pro in the flagship space.

In the midrange market, we have the Dimensity 8050 for the TECNO Camon 20 Premier and the Infinix Note 30 VIP, the Dimensity 7200 for the Vivo V27, the Dimensity 7050 for the OPPO Reno10 5G and the Dimensity 1080 for the Redmi Note 12 Pro+.

While all these are significant steps to accelerate 5G adoption, the country still lags behind its counterparts in 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.

The countries leading in Africa in terms of 5G network subscriptions are South Africa and Nigeria – each having 5 million subscriptions and 1.8 million subscriptions respectively. Kenya comes in third with over 500,000 subscribers. To be fair, South Africa had an early start launching 5G in 2020 while Nigeria launched 5G in September 2022.

But there’s a silver lining in the clouds. According to MediaTek, analysts expect Kenya to account for more than half of Africa’s handful of 5G mobile subscriptions in 2026.

The Big Picture

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.

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

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.

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.