Safaricom launches 5G trials in select regions in Kenya

Safaricom has commenced trials for its widely-anticipated 5G network launch in several regions in the country.

Safaricom subscribers in Nairobi and the Western Kenya region will be the first to experience the 5G network experience as trials for both individuals and enterprise users are already underway in Kisumu, Kisii, Kakamega and Nairobi.

The company plans to expand 5G network coverage to 5 more Kenyan towns over the next year, increasing the number of 5G sites in the country to over 150 in the process.

In areas not covered by its home internet solution, Safaricom Home Fibre, the telecommunications company hopes to pitch 5G to subscribers as the best alternative.

5G networks allow users to access high data transfer speeds – of over 1Gbps.

“The primary objective during the trial period will be to establish if customers can enjoy speeds of up to 700 Megabits per second, with plans to offer than 1,000 Mbps speeds in the coming months,” the company notes in a statement.

Fifth-generation network technologies can also support more devices per cell compared to their predecessors.

“5G can support up to 1 million connected devices per square kilometre compared to 4G which can only support up to 100,000 connected devices in a similar area. This makes 5G suitable for providing super-fast internet speeds in high-density areas and for linking thousands of connected devices such as in a manufacturing and supply chain management for businesses.”

Starting today, users of the Huawei Mate 30 Pro and the Huawei P40 located in any of the covered areas are able to get a taste of Safaricom’s 5G experience. At the end of April, coverage will be extended to the Nokia 8.3 5G, Samsung’s Galaxy S21 series devices, the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold2 and the Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra 5G.

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Last year, while unveiling its Galaxy S20 series devices and, later, some of the Galaxy A series smartphones, Samsung had hinted at ready support for Safaricom’s 5G network.

Back then, Kenya’s largest mobile network operator had already been at work trialling 5G internally for an extended period and had hinted at a possible end of 2020 launch date with its network partner Huawei. Given the pandemic and the uncertainty over Huawei’s freezing by the United States government, things crawled, at least publicly, until word went around last week about the impending announcement.

In what many will see as a safe play, Safaricom is going with two network partners for its 5G rollout: Huawei and Nokia. Both are market leaders, having aided in the rollout of such networks elsewhere around the world, and have years-long relationships with Safaricom for previous generations of network technologies.

The inauguration of Safaricom’s 5G network, albeit on a trial basis, makes it the first such provider in the country and marks the latest milestone in the telecommunication company’s chequered history of firsts in the country.

In December 2014, Safaricom commenced trials for what would be Kenya’s first 4G network in Nairobi and Mombasa. It followed that up with 4G+ just over 3 years later. Uptake for 4G has been low (at 20%), however, forcing the company to come up with various initiatives – like a Kshs 20 a day smartphone – to boost adoption. This is despite the fact that at least 77% of the country had been covered by 4G base stations by Q1 2020.

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7 years earlier, in 2007, Safaricom had started rolling out its 3G network in the country, providing fast internet access like never seen before in the country and setting the stage for the explosion of internet access and usage in the country.

Safaricom has not provided a timeline for the complete rollout of its 5G network across the country as well as any projections on the adoption.

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