Kenya backs Safaricom, Huawei 5G rollout deal

Safaricom 5G launch

From left: Ministry of Information, Communications and Technology Cabinet Secretary Joe Mucheru, Safaricom CEO Peter Ndegwa and Communications Authority of Kenya acting Director-General Mercy Wanjau during Safaricom’s launch of 5G technology trials for its customers on Friday.

Photo credit: Diana Ngila | Nation Media Group

Kenya has endorsed Safaricom’s contract with Huawei in the roll-out of the country’s fifth generation (5G) network, despite security concerns raised over the Chinese company by America and its European allies.

Cabinet Secretary for ICT Joe Mucheru said the Chinese giant had the confidence of the State having already participated in some of the country’s mega tech projects without breaches.

“The partners and the technology we have in the country is safe. We also have capability to see whether some things are added or not,” he said.

He spoke on Friday when Safaricom launched Kenya’s first fifth-generation (5G) mobile internet services in major urban centres including Nairobi, Kisumu, Kisii and Kakamega—with eye on more towns.

The launch makes Safaricom the inaugural operator to offer commercial and superfast services in the region and among 106 global networks that have deployed the network.

The 5G technology is supplied by Nokia Corporation and Huawei—which has been the subject of increased scrutiny in the Western world over introduction of the high speed networks.

National security

Kenya joins countries such as the UK, which agreed to allow Huawei limited access to help build Britain's new 5G network, amid warnings about possible risks to national security.

The US, Australia and New Zealand say the Chinese firm is a security risk because of its ties to the state.

But defending Huawei, Mr Mucheru said: “Like other countries of the world we are using channels that are there. Kenya must move ahead. We cannot be left behind.”

Safaricom earlier defended its working relationship with Huawei. “Do we think that Huawei is a very competent service provider? Yes absolutely. Do we have fights with them? Yes, but they have been a very competent and very close partner of ours over many years,” Safaricom said.

The 5G service is a central part of Safaricom’s attempts to further expand its data business to counter slower growth in voice calls revenue.

The 5G launch follows the December 2015 unveiling of the 4G network, which has helped Safaricom grow its revenues from data to Sh49.6 billion last year from Sh17.9 billion in 2015.