Launch of 4G network in Kenya ‘reinforces nation’s Silicon Savannah status’

Out-Law News | 09 Dec 2014 | 2:24 pm | 2 min. read

Kenyan telecoms firm Safaricom has said the launch this month of its Long Term Evolution (LTE) advanced 4G network will boost communication and data services in the East African nation and enable Kenya to “maintain its leadership technology position in the region”.

Safaricom said it is initially launching the 4G service in December in Nairobi and Mombasa, “before scaling up coverage in other major towns in the coming months”.

“The LTE advanced network will offer peak speeds of up to 100 megabits per second, which is more than twice the speed offered on 3G technology,” the company said.

Safaricom said its advanced network also enables ‘carrier aggregation’, which offers increased bandwidth “accessible through the aggregation of different LTE spectrum bands”.

Safaricom’s chief executive officer Bob Collymore said: “The direct impact of data on our economy has already been noted through the increasing number of businesses and services offered online. With 4G, we can deliver revolutionary services like tele-medicine, virtualisation or real-time video that have an immediate and transformational impact on our society.”

London-based telecoms law expert Diane Mullenex of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.com, said Safaricom’s announcement reinforced Kenya’s self-proclaimed ‘Silicon Savannah’ status. Kenya has “firmly established itself as the technological heart of East Africa”, Mullenex said.

Mullenex said Kenya’s government has “prioritised” the country’s IT industry, including designing the ‘Konza Techno City', 60 kilometres from Nairobi, which aims to foster the growth of the technology industry in Kenya.

However, Mullenex said: “Despite the investment in its IT sector, investment in Kenya’s mobile networks is very slow compared to others countries such as Uganda, Tanzania and Nigeria. Technology is all about data and data is all about speed and spectrum availability to build an LTE network.”

“It has taken a long time for Safaricom, Kenya's largest operator, to launch an LTE network of its own,” Mullenex said. “It is only after the acquisition of yuMobile and the spectrum that came with it, that the company has successfully completed its project.”

Safaricom was the first operator in Kenya to launch mobile data services in 2003 on the 2G platform and was the first to launch its 3G platform in 2008. The company said it has more than 3,200 base stations in Kenya, “nearly half of which are 3G-enabled”.

Liquid Telecom said last October that it is to invest $740,000 in its Ugandan subsidiary Infocom, to extend its pan African fibre cable infrastructure across Kampala’s central business district and to rural towns.

A joint report published in 2012 by the World Bank and African Development Bank, with support from the African Union, said that, at the start of 2012, Africa’s mobile telephony market was “bigger than either the EU or the US. Some 68,000 kilometres of submarine cable and over 615,000 km of “national backbone networks” had already been laid to boost connectivity across the continent, the report said.

According to a survey published last June (8-page / 224 KB PDF), total mobile subscriptions in sub-Saharan Africa stood at about 70% at the end of 2013, compared to about 92% globally, and digital technology is “fast becoming a part of everyday life” in the region.

Africa’s mobile data traffic is predicted to grow around 20 times between the end of 2013 and the end of 2019, the survey said.

The “strong growth” of mobile data connections and services across Africa has also been highlighted in research published by global analysis firm Ovum.

According to Ovum, “the number of mobile subscriptions in Africa continues to grow faster than in any other major world region, with total mobile subscriptions increasing by 9.8% year-on-year to 808 million at end-2013, compared to the global growth rate of 6.3%”.