Airtel Gears Up to Launch 5G Network in July, Directly Competing with Safaricom


Airtel Kenya, aiming to rival dominant competitor Safaricom, is preparing to introduce its high-speed fifth-generation (5G) mobile broadband network next month.

Chairman of Bharti Airtel (Airtel Kenya’s holding firm), Sunil Mittal, announced during a press briefing in Nairobi that the company is in the advanced stages of a 5G rollout, with the launch scheduled for early next month. Mittal stated, “We are not too far away from our launch of 5G services, sometime early next month. So we are immediately to the last lap of the launch of 5G services.” He also highlighted that Airtel has already established a comprehensive 4G network across Africa, including Kenya.

In February, Airtel disclosed that its initial rollout of 5G services would focus on select affluent neighbourhoods in Nairobi, where there is both demand for enabled devices and sufficient purchasing power to ensure business viability.

While 5G technology offers significantly faster speeds compared to widely available 4G, it requires more expensive smartphones and data bundles that are currently beyond the financial reach of the majority of Kenyans. Safaricom, the first to offer 5G services, has also prioritized areas with a high concentration of affluent and middle-class subscribers, including neighbourhoods like Kileleshwa, Muthaiga, Karen, Lavington, Two Rivers Mall, and Greensteds International School in Nakuru.

Safaricom’s 5G service presently covers 28 towns across 21 counties in Kenya, including Nairobi, Kiambu, Machakos, Kajiado, Kisumu, Mombasa, Kisii, Kakamega, and more. The company launched its 5G services with introductory offers ranging from Sh3,499 to Sh14,999 per month, depending on the speed and data volume included in the packages.

The majority of 5G-ready phones are priced between Sh25,000 and over Sh150,000, falling into the mid to high-end device range, making them unaffordable for most consumers.

Currently, supported smartphones include 5G-enabled devices from Samsung Galaxy S and Fold series, Huawei, and Oppo. Apple iPhone users and select Samsung device owners will require a software update from the manufacturer to access the superfast network.

Airtel has ambitious plans to add 349 network sites and aims for completion by the end of the year, with an additional 300 sites in the pipeline. These efforts reflect the company’s commitment to addressing connectivity challenges that have long hindered its users. “Currently, Airtel’s network infrastructure spans over 3,200 sites,” mentioned Mittal.