Safaricom 5G: Early adopters of new technologies and trends

In the last few days, I have been thinking about what separates the most successful companies from the rest. In particular, I have been thinking about what separates Safaricom from the pack.  And three things stood out for me. First is the drive to be the best, always experimenting and looking for new ways of doing things. In other words, being ready to take the necessary risks to come up with new products and services (Innovation). 

Second, is being the industry’s early adopter. When there is a new piece of technology, then they are not afraid to go for it right from the beginning. The early adopters are the first to use new technology and in most cases end up disrupting the markets. And above all, gain a competitive advantage. 

Finally, they provide customers with the experience they rarely get from other companies. That could be in terms of the availability of the service or product, the ease of use, and the top multi-channel customer care service. 

Safaricom MPESA for example, has defined what innovation is in Kenya, and there is no article you will read about Silicon Savannah without MPESA being mentioned.  I think what has been missing when people are discussing this is the fact that Safaricom has consistently launched quite several new products over the years. Some have been very successful while others have not, but in the end, they have developed a deep-rooted never give up innovative spirit. 

Innovation has enabled Safaricom to have some very widely used services, but I think what has made Safaricom a million miles apart from the others is that they are truly early adopters of new technologies and trends. For this, they always aligned the capabilities of emerging technology with strategic opportunities.  

Safaricom’s history of being an early adopter is a rich history to look at. The first big move was when Safaricom moved to per-second billing in 2002, a move that left their sole competitor at the time scrambling to keep their customers but stubbornly sticking with per-minute billing.  Per-minute billing meant that speaking for 10 seconds cost as much as speaking for 60 seconds. Though competition was stiff and they were trying to outdo each other with every move, Safaricom was catering to the needs of their customers. 

There are so many other early adopter moves that Safaricom has made but I want to concentrate on their early moves across the network generation, 1G, 2G, 3G, 4G, and specifically 5G. Those are the five generations of mobile networks. G stands for ‘Generation’ and the numbers 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5 represent the generation number with 5G being the newest kid in the block.  

Safaricom was the first operator in Kenya to roll out mobile data in 2003 on the 2G platform, and later the company was the first to launch its 3G platform in 2007.  In 2007, they paid around Ksh.1.7 Billion (25 Million USD) to get a 3G licence. Their closest rival launched 3G in 2012, and those were 5 years of a solid head start. One thing people should understand is how steep that amount was for Safaricom but it was an investment that I think they later looked at and were proud that they had made. When 4G came along, Safaricom did not hesitate, they paid Ksh2.5 billion for its 4G licence in 2016. Again they were the only one with 4G in the country for nearly 2 years, up to 2018. 

In March 2021, Safaricom launched a trial phase of the 5G technology in selected cities and towns like  Nairobi, Kisumu, Kisii, and Kakamega. Then they officially launched 5G in Kenya in October 2022 and by the time of writing this article, they have already increased the coverage to 28 towns across 21 counties.  They  have more than 400,00 people using 5G to date. 

Safaricom 5G


This is what Safaricom CEO  Peter Ndegwa  said during the launch of the trial phase:

“Today marks a major milestone for the country. With 5G, we aim to empower our customers with super-fast internet at work, at home, and when on the move, supplementing our growing fibre network. At Safaricom, we are proud to be the first in the country and the region to bring this latest innovation to both our retail and enterprise customers, empowering them to start exploring new opportunities that 5G provides,” 

Safaricom always gets the technology right from the onset. They have been the first in every generation of mobile networks and at this point, they are the first and only one at the time of writing to have deployed 5G in Kenya both from the commercial perspective and usage. So, next time anybody asks how Safaricom has managed to stay ahead of the pack, tell them that it is simple, just taking the risks and being the early adopter of new technologies

At this point, I know many people are still asking what is the big deal about 5G. Well, 5G is a revolutionary technology designed to increase transmission speed, huge network capacity, and reduced latency.

 The key features being:

-Wired-like reliability

-Ultra-low latency <20ms

-Gbps data rate

On the Reliability

5G uses three frequency bands (low, mid, and high) while sending and receiving data. Each of the frequency bands has a different capacity. The low band which is less than 1GHz covers bigger regions but has low speeds. The mid band, 1GHz to 6GHz has a balance of both speed and coverage radius, while the high band 24GHz to 40GHz has very high speed but a very small coverage radius. 5G uses the bands to ensure data is transmitted across the most efficient path. For example, to communicate with somebody in Kitiro village in Homabay from Nairobi, 5G signals will use the low band.   Communication within proximity, within the same building like, a Smart Tv connection in the living room from the Smartphone in the bedroom uses the high band.  

The use of the bands also helps 5G signals penetrate materials such as glass, sheet metal, and concrete. In other words, once fully realised in the country, those living along the low grounds or valleys will not have to climb trees or run the hilltops to receive the connections. 

On the speed. 

Based on the above, it should be understood that you get different speeds. Usually when discussing the speed, the ideal or direct comparison is that 5G is almost 100 times faster than 4G.   In reality, the speed is like a pipe for water, if you have a bigger pipe then more water (high band), while a small pipe has less water (low band). The pipe that can be deployed depends on the available spectrum, which is usually allocated by the Communication Authority of Kenya.  According to the Communication Authority, the only spectrum for 5G at the moment is 700MGz (less than 1GHZ) for 5G low band frequency. Before 5G, they had assigned the other bands for 4G and other mobile services. The good news is that they are in the process of re-farming all the 5G designated spectrum plus other bands.

Safaricom on their part has bundled their 5G services with typical speeds of 400Mbps to 700Mbps. The 5G bundles are personalised based on usage and are available on Tunukiwa via MySafaricom App,, and USSD *444# or *544#.

Safaricom 5G

On Latency 

Latency measures how much time it takes for your computer or phone to access the internet. When you click a link or type in the browser, how long does it take before you get the site or the system you are looking for?

Please stay tuned for our next 5G article which will look  at Safaricom 5G commercial use case

Kennedy Kachwanya1087 Posts

--- Kennedy Kachwanya is a technology blogger interested in mobile phones both smart and dumb, mobile apps, mobile money, social media, startups ecosystem and digital Savannah. New media must not forget the strength of old tech.


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