You heard that Safaricom was launching the 5G network in Kenya with an initial launch set for Nairobi and Western Kenya. Now Airtel has announced that it has upgraded some of its sites with the fifth-generation (5G) mobile Internet services.
This move is the latest the company is taking as it ups its war against telecom giant Safaricom, for a share of the business that according to pundits is set to change the way we do things.
According to Airtel, the move would see it capitalize on the rising mobile internet demand in the country, a move that happens after Safaricom announced the same plans.
In an interview with the Business Daily, Airtel Kenya managing director Prasanta Das Sarma said, “These 600 sites are now 5G-ready. We do not have to make any further modifications to the network. We will just get the spectrum and decide when to switch on.”
Airtel is the second-largest mobile company in Kenya and at a 26.5 % stake in the mobile data segment, it seeks to boost its data business. Recently, there has been an uptake of data due to the COVID-19 pandemic that has forced businesses and other work to be done from home.
The Kenyan unit of India’s Bharti Airtel says it has over 600 sites in Nairobi, Mombasa, and Malindi on the 5G network.
700 Megabytes of Speed
The 5G network promised to give its consumers up to 700 megabits per second of internet speed, which is three times what we get on the 4G network. It can download a movie in seconds.
This will be advantageous to businesses and homes not connected to the fiber network. As a result, many more people could work from the comfort of their houses.
Both Safaricom and Airtel are eying the mobile data market as research shows that more Kenyans are connecting to the internet via their smartphones. Safaricom leads the mobile data segment at 67.6%. Apart from Airtel, other players in the mobile data segment are Faiba by Jamii Telkom and Telkom Kenya.
Already Safaricom has launched the 5G network in five counties including Kisumu, Kisii, and Nairobi. It seeks to expand its high-speed internet to 150 sites in nine urban centers in the next 12 months.
Both Airtel and Safaricom are aiming to rev up their data business to offset sluggish growth in mobile calls, where they are seeing a small revenue growth due to saturation.
Airtel 5G Compatible handsets
To access the 5G network, subscribers will need to acquire new handsets that are compatible with the 5G before they can enjoy the service.
Currently very few Kenyans own the 5G phones, which are expensive. Most of these devices retail from Ksh. 40000.00 while an average smartphone with 4G capabilities in the market cost about Ksh. 15000.00.
The advantage of the 5G is that there will not be network congestion as downloads and upload speeds would ease up the congestion.
“The 5G handsets right now are obviously very costly and see few buys. We feel that a reasonable price will start coming in one and a half to two years,” said Mr. Sarma.
He added, “That is the time we feel we will be able to switch on our 5G network. But if things happen faster, we are ready for it.”
He however said that the company is not in a rush to switch to 5G due to the high cost of smartphones that connect to the network.
Airtel is betting on data and hopes the increased smartphone usage will boost revenues and push up its profitability. Recently, Airtel has been gaining market share in the data segment over Safaricom in recent years.
For instance, Airtel’s subscriber market share on mobile data users jumped to 26.5 percent at the end of December, from 15.7 percent in September of 2017.
The number of mobile data users in Kenya increased to 43.7 million in December from 30.6 million in September 2017, according to the Communications Authority of Kenya.
After opposition leader Raila Odinga, now Uhuru’s brother lost in the 2017 elections, he urged his supporter to boycott Safaricom products a move that helped Airtel gain more numbers.
By launching the Airtel 5G, Airtel Kenya now gives subscribers the option to choose from itself or its biggest rival Safaricom.