Dispute between US government and Huawei forces Safaricom to postpone launch of 5G network

Safaricom has put on hold plans to unveils what would have been Kenya’s first 5G network following the ongoing squabble between US government and Chinese tech giant Huawei. The company has been at the fore front of 5G technology but has faced uncertainty following blacklisting by the US government followed by other territories in Europe as well as Asia. The US government essentially made it impossible for Huawei to supply 5G technology in the states, a move that has seen other countries join in, seriously impacting Huawei’s business.

Safaricom has always been viewed by many as well placed to launch Kenya’s 5G network given its financial muscle and going by previous precedent. By halting its plans to launch the next generation network in the foreseeable future within the country effectively means Kenyans might have to wait a little longer to experience its fast internet connection speeds.

According to the mobile service provider’s Chief Executive Officer Peter Ndegwa, the firm is currently investing in upgrading current infrastructure stuck on previous 3G and 2G networks to a faster LTE (4G) platform. The 5th generation mobile internet has so far gained traction overseas and almost all smartphone manufacturer’s have since introduced devices that support those frequencies.

In Kenya, consumers can get 5G ready devices such as the Nokia 8.3 5G that is readily available in retail stores across the country, but can’t enjoy 5G speeds just yet as no provider has rolled out the technology. Previous reports indicate that Safaricom had been testing the fifth-generation network and had even planned to rollout in major towns before end of this year.

Since Safaricom’s network had based on Huawei technology – a company that’s viewed by Washington as deeply routed within the Chinese government and has since faced sanctions from the largest economy in the world; which goes without saying, it might have played a role in Safaricom’s sudden change of heart.

Data has been the main focus for Safaricom after diminishing growth in voice and sms segments, there’s also increased pressure from regulations to open up MPESA business, such as recent proposals to allow agents to operate other mobile money services, a measure that might kick the telco’s success downward-spiral.

Speaking on the development, Safaricom’s CEO noted, there was still room to expand its 4G coverage at least in the short term while engaging the government regarding spectrum. Ndegwa said 5G was not on their urgent checklist for now. While Huawei continues to deny accusations leveled by the US, it’s prudent the impact has been immense, and since Kenya and the US launched bilateral trade pact mid this year, it seems news regarding Safaricom’s change of heart isn’t just a coincidence.


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