Safaricom boosted by prime spectrum for 5G rollout

5G internet

Safaricom has been allocated a prime internet spectrum for its fifth-generation (5G) mobile technology network,

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

Safaricom has been allocated a prime internet spectrum for its fifth-generation (5G) mobile technology network, pushing it closer to rolling out commercial superfast internet.

Insiders told the Nation that the telco got a 60 megahertz (MHz) spectrum in the 2600MHz band from the Communications Authority of Kenya (CA).

“The 2600MHz band is very prime, it was previously used by the security agencies in Kenya but they released it following change in the technology that they use,” a senior source said. The source did not disclose the amount the telco paid for the spectrum.

The price is certainly higher than the $25 million (Sh2.89billion) licence fee for the 4G internet spectrum about five years ago.

Safaricom did not respond to queries on its 5G rollout plans when contacted.

China’s Huawei, which built Safaricom’s 5G network, has in other markets such as Thailand, preferred the 2600MHz band because it allows operators to install base transmission stations – commonly referred to as cell towers – for heavy data traffic nationwide.

The allocated spectrum marks a major step forward for Safaricom, which like other telcos, is eager to formally roll out 5G and reap from the rising demand for superfast internet.

The country’s main telcos, Airtel and Safaricom have already done extensive trials on 5G from hundreds of sites spread across the country.

Airtel Kenya has over 600 sites in Nairobi, Mombasa, and Malindi in its pilot 5G network as it prepares to compete for a larger share of the fast-growing data business.

Safaricom has piloted 5G networks in several counties including Nairobi, Kisumu and Kisii, and seeks to expand the high-speed internet to more urban areas.

The regulator has stepped up preparations for the 5G rollout and disclosed that some of its fixed wireless access (FWA) network infrastructure – which operators use to deliver ultra-high-speed broadband to suburban and rural areas where fibre is prohibitively expensive to lay and maintain – would be converted to support 5G technology by the end of June.

“The authority issues frequency assignments to network facilities providers to deploy network infrastructure and provide connectivity to consumers typically within the 1.7, 3.3, and 3.5 GHz (gigahertz) bands. The 3.5 GHz band, within which most FWA deployments have been activated in Kenya, will be re-farmed from fixed wireless access to mobile wireless access for 5G technology by June 30, 2022” the regulator said in an update on the allocation of frequencies for the three months ended March.

The date of the formal rollout of the 5G network, however, remains unclear despite pressure from telcos.

Barely 10 days ago, the regulator rejected a request by Safaricom to expedite the rollout of the 5G network.

Insiders said authorities are particularly concerned that a rushed shift to 5G poses the risk of excluding a large chunk of consumers who lack the appropriate gear to support the technology.

Subscribers who want to use the superfast internet have to acquire handsets compatible with 5G to enjoy the service, which offers much faster data download and upload speeds that ultimately ease network congestion.

The prices of smartphones that support 5G technology are still prohibitive in Kenya.