Safaricom will Friday launch Kenya’s first fifth-generation (5G) mobile internet services targeting major urban centres, making it the inaugural operator to offer commercial and superfast services in the region.
The firm last year completed testing and trials for the upgraded network as the company seeks to capitalise on burgeoning mobile Internet use in the country.
The leading telco Thursday revealed the Friday launch of the 5G technology that will be supplied by Nokia Corporation and Huawei—which has been the subject of increased scrutiny in the Western world over the introduction of the high speed networks.
The 5G service is a central part of its attempts to further expand its data business to counter slower growth in voice calls revenue.
The service will be available in Nairobi and greater western Kenya including Kisumu, Kisii and Bungoma, which routinely witness increased data traffic.
"Safaricom will be the first operator in East Africa to launch 5G services and will be showcasing the capabilities of the network with the aid of Huawei and Nokia’s technologies," Safaricom said in an invite to the press.
Safaricom subscribers who want to use the service will need to acquire new handsets that are compatible with 5G before they can enjoy the superfast Internet, which offers much faster data download and upload speeds that ultimately ease network congestion.
The firms seeks to capitalise on the rising mobile Internet use in the country.
Safaricom has seen web data revenue grow more than three times over the past five years to Sh49.6 billion last year.
The 5G launch will follow the December 2015 unveiling of the 4G network, which has helped Safaricom grow its revenues from data to Sh49.6 billion last year from Sh17.9 billion in 2015.
Kenya had 58.9 million mobile subscribers in the quarter ended September. Of those users, around 42.8 million had mobile data subscriptions, with Safaricom enjoying dominance in this segment.
Safaricom’s 5G has decided to retain Huawei, which Washington has accused of working at the behest of Beijing.
Chipmaker Qualcomm has indicated that 5G could achieve browsing and download speeds about 10 to 20 times faster than those offered by 4G. That would allow a consumer to download a high-definition film in a minute or so. Mobile gamers will also notice less delay - or latency - when pressing a button on a controller and seeing the effect on screen. Similarly, mobile videos should be near instantaneous and glitch-free while video calls would become clearer and less jerky under the 5G network.
This is the market that Safaricom is eyeing in the firm’s quest to increase sales from its data division.
Kenya’s telephony market has evolved over the past five years, with growth in data sales increasing faster than revenues from voice. Competition in this space is growing with Jamii Telecom being the latest to launch the 4G proposition, offering data at prices relatively cheaper than what is in the market.
Safaricom had earlier said it was targeting about 80 percent of the Kenyan population with its 4G network coverage by doubling it to 5,000 base stations by March 2020, covering all major towns.
Data from the Communications Authority of Kenya shows that Safaricom grew its mobile subscriptions 4.2 percent to 38.144 million in the three months ended September. Safaricom’s net profit for the six months through September fell by 6 percent to Sh33.06 billion.