Safaricom Telecommunications Ethiopia (STE) signed a dark fibre lease agreement with Ethiopian Electric Power (EEP) as it continues to build up its network for an expected launch of services in the first half of the year.

The new entrant to the market in the Horn of Africa stated the five-year agreement, its first infrastructure deal in Ethiopia, will allow it to use the utility company’s network of optical ground wire cables to support its future telecoms services.

STE and mobile money service m-Pesa are expected to launch in April or May. The operator has been issuing tenders as it prepares infrastructure, operations and services.

Indications are the operator will be working with Huawei Technologies and Nokia on its network build.

STE is yet to provide a firm date for its launch in the country, although it told local media it had finalised preparations for the launch of commercial operations. For example, it is investing $100 million in a new data centre in Addis Ababa and expects to deploy more centres over time.

Safaricom is leading The Global Partnership for Ethiopia consortium, which in 2021 was issued with Ethiopia’s first private telecoms licence having outbid MTN in the final stage of the lengthy sales process.

Ethiopia already has state-owned Ethio Telecom in place and had issued a tender for a third player to enter the market. However, the process was put on hold after the Ethiopian Communications Authority (ECA) reportedly received requests from a number of potential bidders to delay the process.

The ECA is said to have indicated it will relaunch the tender, although without providing a timeline.

Safaricom CEO Peter Ndegwa previously cited ongoing unrest in the country among potential risk factors to the venture’s success.