Safaricom now overtakes Airtel in 5G sites rollout

The announcement of the availability of 5G Wi-Fi in 5G-ready areas by Safaricom Plc. The telco became the first service provider in Kenya to announce 5G trials in March 2021.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

Safaricom is for the first time operating more fifth generation (5G) sites than its rival Airtel Kenya, underlining an aggressive rollout that points to intensifying competition between the pair for the fast-growing data business.

In its newly released annual report, Safaricom indicates that it had activated up to 803 5G sites as of the close of March, dwarfing the 690 that Airtel is currently running.

This is a reversal of last year’s position where Airtel boasted more locations that support the new-age technology at 370 against Safaricom’s 205, meaning that the latter has added 598 new sites in a year slightly surpassing its set target of 595.

Airtel has on the other hand activated a total of 320 new sites during the period, expanding its coverage to 39 counties up from 16 last year.

With the addition, Safaricom says it has now expanded 5G coverage to 43 counties up from the 23 served last year.

“Since the activation of our 5G service in March 2021, and its subsequent launch in October 2022, we have greatly expanded network access, with 803 5G sites across 43 out of the 47 Kenyan counties, as at the end of March 2024,” states the giant telco in the report.

“Our aim is to continue increasing the empowerment of our customers with super-fast internet at work, at home, and on the move, by supplementing our growing fibre network.”

Over the next year, Safaricom has set an ambitious target of expanding the number of 5G sites to over 1,700 as it seeks to sustain its current market lead. The 5G technology is much faster compared to the widely available 4G but requires more high-end smart gadgets in addition to expensive data bundles that are out of reach for the majority of users.

Last month, however, Airtel unveiled a 5G-enabled router that was touted as a potential game-changer to the slow uptake of the super-fast network service on the premise that it would eliminate the need for users to acquire the highly priced 5G-ready smartphones.

The country’s second-largest telco first unveiled the 5G mobile broadband network mid-last year, months after Safaricom had launched the service in October 2022.

Data from the Communications Authority of Kenya (CA) shows that during the 12 months to last March, the number of mobile data subscribers onboarded to the 5G network grew 74 percent to hit 653,716 up from 373,537 as of March last year.

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