Airtel Kenya will spend at least $150 million (Sh21.5 billion) over the next three years to expand its network coverage through, among other initiatives, setting up an extra 649 new network sites across the country.
The telco’s CEO Ashish Malhotra told Business Daily on Tuesday the firm has to date rolled out over $1 billion (Sh143.3 billion at current exchange rates) worth of investments in the country since inception, adding that the bulk of it has happened in the last three years.
“$150 million is what we require for incremental investments in the coming two to three years from a network perspective alone. But that’s not the only investment that we will make, there are others happening in regard to building more shops, bringing more affordable routers and so on,” said Malhotra.
Airtel had in June spelt out the plan to advance its network infrastructure in renewed aggression to tap into a larger part of the market share, saying at the time that it would put up a total of 349 network sites before the close of the year, with an additional 300 sites in the pipeline as part of efforts aimed at addressing connectivity handicaps that have for long encumbered its users.
The firm’s network infrastructure currently spans over 3,200 sites covering 89 percent of the country across all 47 counties.
On Tuesday, Malhotra said the telco is eyeing the establishment of at least one service shop per ward to improve brand visibility, noting that the coverage was yet to reach just 250 wards, a gap that will be fixed during the next three months.
“The investment is never just one item. Whatever the requirement is to get a nationwide network, we’ll keep pushing it as an internal agenda as we keep working towards providing an affordable product to our customers,” he said.
Last year, the company acquired an additional 2,600 megahertz spectrum at the cost of $40 million (Sh5.7 billion), which provided an opening for the firm to roll out the super-fast fifth-generation (5G) mobile broadband network last month.
Airtel became the second operator in Kenya to roll out the super-fast 5G technology after Safaricom unveiled the service last year.
Mr Malhotra decried the low penetration of 5G-enabled smartphones saying it was hindering uptake of the technology.
“The response has been good, though the penetration of the 5G-enabled devices in the country is almost one percent of our total devices. It is purely an issue of the cost of devices,” he said.
Today, Airtel boasts the establishment of 370 5G network sites with plans to set up 120 more in three months, ahead of rival Safaricom which currently has 205.
Safaricom plans to increase the number of its 5G network sites to 800 by the close of March 2024.