Ethio Telecom, the state-owned telecom service provider in Ethiopia, on Monday launched 5G mobile phone service making Ethiopia among the leading few African countries, including Kenya in eastern Africa, to roll out the technology.
According to Ethio Telecom, the network will be available on hotspot areas in the capital Addis Ababa, including in the area around Ethio Telecom's head office and at the premises of Bole International Airport, before being expanded to cover other parts of the country.
“The 5G service is launched in selected places in Addis Ababa,” Ethio Telecom CEO Frehiwot Tamru announced during a launch ceremony.
“In the coming 12 months, we will have 150 5G sites in Addis Ababa and in major cities outside the capital.”
5G commercial networks have been launched in key countries such as Botswana, South Africa, Seychelles, Mauritius and Zimbabwe, but the technology remains largely underdeveloped in larger parts of Africa.
The EastAfrican has learnt that Ethiopia has paid about $40 million to China’s Huawei company to deploy the network.
Ethiopia, Africa's second most populous country, introduced third-generation (3G) and fourth-generation (4G) in 2007 and 2015, respectively.
At the East Africa Com event opened virtually on May 10, it was disclosed that 5G connectivity in Africa is on the rise but still lagging behind 3G and 4G networks.
Despite expected growth over the next five years, 5G subscriptions will not exceed 20 million in Africa by 2026, according to Omdia's Senior ICT research analyst, Thecla Mbongue.
Omdia is a research and advisory group.
Ms Mbongue says 5G will represent less than10 per cent of the continent's mobile usage by 2025.
During the virtual event, Kenechi Okeleke, director for social and regional research at the Global System for Mobile Communications Association (GSMA), said work has been done in Kenya to deploy the network.
Mobile network operator Safaricom launched its 5G network in March 2021, trialling the tech in four towns with plans to expand it to others.
“Perhaps next year we could see full commercial 5G services in Kenya,” the research director said.
Omdia forecasts that the number of 5G mobile subscriptions in Kenya will grow from 1.1 million at end-2022 to 12.8 million by 2026.
“The strong growth will be supported by demand for high-speed and low-latency broadband services across key sectors of the economy, including health, education, agriculture, manufacturing, mining, construction, smart city and transportation and tourism,” Omdia said.
Describing 5G growth in Africa as “a mixed bag”, Mr Okeleke suggested that the Covid pandemic had showed the need for enhanced connectivity and driven demand for connectivity.
“Actual network launches have been slow; we have not seen the number of deployments we wished we had seen,” he added.
At the event, experts noted that the east African economy would greatly benefit from the advances that 5G would bring to several sectors, including in agriculture, and called on governments to support 5G infrastructure projects.
5G network is currently the fastest and most robust technologies the world has ever seen.
The network offers data speeds up to 100 times faster than 4G.