Airtel Kenya has upgraded some of its sites with fifth-generation (5G) mobile Internet services as the telecoms operator prepares to battle Safaricom for a larger share of the fast-growing data business.

Airtel said the deployment of 5G-ready networks would help it capitalise on the rising mobile Internet demand in the country, just days after Safaricom became the inaugural operator to offer the superfast services in the region.

The Kenyan unit of India’s Bharti Airtel says it has over 600 sites in Nairobi, Mombasa and Malindi on 5G network.

“These 600 sites are now 5G-ready. We don’t have to make any further modifications to the network. We will just get the spectrum and decide when to switch on,” Airtel Kenya managing director Prasanta Das Sarma told the Business Daily in an interview.

Airtel Kenya, which has 26.5 percent stake in the mobile data segment, wants to boost its data business amid increasing demand due to the Covid-19 pandemic that is forcing people to work and learn from home.

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The new 5G network will give consumers Internet speeds of 700 megabits per second, more than three times faster than the current 4G network, allowing operators to offer an alternative service for homes and offices in areas which are not currently covered by its fibre network.

This is the market that Safaricom, which is the market leader in the mobile data segment in Kenya, with 67.6 percent of total users as of December, is eyeing.

The Nairobi bourse-listed firm launched 5G in five counties, including Nairobi, Kisumu and Kisii, and seeks to expand the high-speed Internet to 150 sites in nine urban areas 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.

Subscribers who want to use the superfast Internet will need to acquire new handsets that are compatible with 5G before they can enjoy the service, which offers much faster data download and upload speeds that ultimately ease network congestion.

Airtel reckons it will not be in a rush to switch 5G network on, citing high handset prices.

Currently, 5G phones in the Kenyan market are few and expensive. For instance, Huawei Mate 30 Pro retails at about Sh70,000 while Huawei P40 goes for Sh98,000.


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