Safaricom told Mobile World Live (MWL) it will launch commercial 5G service in Kenya tomorrow (26 March), with the move tipped to be the first rollout of the next-generation technology in the country.

In a statement to MWL, Safaricom said it partnered with Nokia and Huawei for the rollout. Business Daily Africa reported the deployment would begin in Kenyan capital Nairobi along with other areas with high data consumption.

The newspaper stated Safaricom’s 5G network would be the first in Kenya and explained the operator aimed to offset a decline in voice revenue by cashing in on growing demand for mobile data.

Safaricom’s choice of Huawei is notable: in early 2020 Reuters reported analysts had warned of a potential impact on Kenyan trade talks with the US from the operator’s relationship with the Chinese company due to sanctions imposed on the vendor.

Rival Airtel Kenya is also making 5G plans, striking a deal with Nokia in November 2020 to upgrade its current 2G, 3G and 4G infrastructure in addition to fresh deployments.

5G across Africa
Africa lags in 5G rollouts compared with other continents.

In 2018 Vodacom claimed to be the first operator to launch 5G on the continent with a move in Lesotho, and followed up in May 2020 with a deployment in South Africa, a month ahead of domestic rival MTN Group.

GSMA Intelligence estimated commercial 5G services will be live in at least seven sub-Saharan African markets by 2025, including Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa. It predicted 5G connections to reach 28 million, or 3 per cent of total mobile connections, in the period.