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Safaricom Launches 5G as Regulator Schedules February Rollout Forum

GBR Team 20/01/2020

Safaricom has refarmed its WiMax frequencies to rollout fixed-wireless 5G service in Nairobi even as the Communications Authority plans to call for an industry forum next month to discuss the nation’s rollout plans.

The listed telco was expected to launch the 5G service this week with the regulator confirming that they are in the picture.

“Yes, CA is aware of Safaricom’s plans,” the Communications Authority in response to queries by GBR said.

“The spectrum envisaged for the first round of 5G rollout is already with the operators who are expected to refarm their formerly assigned WiMax frequencies in the 2.5 and 3.5GHz bqnds.”

Safaricom acquired WiMax frequencies when it bought data company OneCom for US$2.6m in 2008.

It is not clear how extensive the roll out is but sources indicate it could be limited to parts of Nairobi/Westlands.

GBR sent queries to Safaricom on the same and will update when the responses are received.

But initial tests by Safaricom are said to have achieved speeds of up to 750Megabits per second although the real service speeds are expected to be much lower than that.

Tests have been ongoing since last year as more sites were set up.

The number of devices in the market that are 5G ready are also limited. Currently, just the Xiaomi Redme K30 and the Huawei Mate 30 seem ready for the service.

According to the Communications Authority, a number of other players are also interested in rolling out fixed wireless 5G and the regulator intends to hold a stakeholders’ forum in February to address the issue.

“The Authority plans to avail all the 5G standardized frequencies ready for assignment to prospective operators,” said the CA. “This follows the decisions that were taken after the World Radio Conference held in November 2019 in Sharm El Sheikh.”

CA will brief industry players on the outcomes of the conference at the forum.

Internet data demand in the country has exploded over the last few years putting a strain on the existing 3G and 4G networks.

CA statistics indicate internet subscriptions in the country now stand at about 52 million with about half of that (48.5 percent) being on broadband.

With streaming services becoming ever popular, the demand for bandwidth is likely to scale up as services like Netflix, ShowMax, Amazon Prime, Disney and Hulu stage battles for subscribers in the country.

Internet of Things, also called the Facebook of Things, that allows devices to interconnect over the internet is also seen driving demand.

The international bandwidth available for use in the country stands at about 5,300 Gigabits per second of which 1,500 Gbps is utilized. This means there is headroom for growth.

CA insiders expect Kenya to be among the first countries on the continent to roll out 5G services with Nigeria, South Africa and Egypt as well.