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Safaricom downplays Airtel’s 4G licence fears

Safaricom CEO Bob Collymore said the firm had started 4G trials on the 1800 MHz and cannot see why its rival Airtel could not do the same. PHOTO | FILE
Safaricom CEO Bob Collymore said the firm had started 4G trials on the 1800 MHz and cannot see why its rival Airtel could not do the same. PHOTO | FILE 

Safaricom says it will be obligated by the industry regulator to share capacity on its 4G network at a fee, responding to fears from Airtel which wants the telecoms regulator to stop planned commercial launch of the service before the sharing agreement is signed.

Safaricom said on Thursday the sharing agreement would be part of the licensing conditions and that the model of sharing has not yet been agreed upon.

Communications Authority of Kenya (CA) told the Business Daily in a previous interview that the model would be wholesale based, where Safaricom’s rivals would ride on its 4G network to offer the service.

The CA, in a gazette notice published on August 19, said it intends to issue Safaricom a licence to operate on the 800HZ frequency, the technical definition for the high-speed (4G) Internet spectrum, sparking a protest from Airtel.

Steve Chege, Safaricom corporate affairs director, said the firm is yet to be issued with the licence.

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“We are ready to share our 4G network with other telcos. The sharing arrangement will be part of the licensing conditions,” he said on Thursday.

According to the CA, Safaricom will be required to cede at least 30 per cent capacity of its 4G network to rivals, lowering competitors’ entry barrier to the high-speed Internet technology.

Director-general Francis Wangusi said sharing would allow smaller operators that lack the financial and technical muscle to deploy the capital-intensive infrastructure.

“Safaricom will have to offer other operators capacity on wholesale terms,” he said in the earlier interview.

Safaricom has already rolled out the 4G technology in parts of Nairobi and Mombasa, and expects to spread the service to major towns within a year.

The network that offers high-speed Internet and improved video streaming for heavy data users such as hospitals practising telemedicine.

The  regulator also noted that infrastructure sharing  would enable small operators to save on capital expenditure and also reduce the time they would have taken if they were they deploy their own infrastructure.

Airtel holds that Safaricom should not be allowed use the 800MHz to commercially roll out the 4G network before a deal with other operators planning to launch a similar platform is signed.

Mr Wangusi defended the Safaricom allocation saying it was not biased.

“Safaricom was assigned the same amount of spectrum in the same manner as Airtel (Parity based allocation”,” he added.

Safaricom CEO Bob Collymore said the firm had started 4G trials on the 1800 MHz and cannot see why its rival Airtel could not do the same.

 “We are aware that in February 2015, Airtel was allocated spectrum in the 1800MHz band to deploy 4G,” said Mr Collymore.

“We cannot speculate why they have not rolled out the service to date as it is possible to deploy 4G in different bands.”

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