Kenya’s Safaricom has indicated that it will be able to fully release mobile 5G plans next month once it has secured support from key device supplier Apple.

The operator ‘commercially’ launched 5G in late October but says that only about half of the 5G smartphones running on its network have received software updates to deal with its mid-band-based service.

During last week’s Sub-Sahara Spectrum Management Conference, Franklin Kano Ocharo, Head of Fixed Data at Safaricom, described talks with smartphone manufacturers on 5G compatibility as a “chicken and egg” problem.

Ocharo said, “They want to see proof that we are serious and investing in the rollout for them to take time to provide the update — whereas, on the customer side, they want to have devices that support and can connect to 5G network, and for us to roll out 5G”.

Having launched 5G commercially, Ocharo noted that Safaricom was progressing with talks with Apple regarding the provision of a software update for existing 5G iPhones. Although the US vendor’s devices are said to represent as much of half of the installed 5G terminal base in Kenya, he noted that other providers, including Huawei, Oppo, and Samsung, had already ensured compatibility. Overall, about 200,000 5G smartphones are understood to be used across Kenya.

BMA understands that Safaricom’s current 5G service is based on 3.5GHz frequencies. Still, the operator has indicated it is now working with partner Huawei Technologies to add 2.6GHz resource to its 5G (and 4G) platform, extending both device support and network reach and capacity.

Safaricom’s 27 October 5G launch secured its position as the first East African operator to debut the technology. It followed several successive trials, including a soft launch in four urban centres during March 2021, with an initial footprint of about 15 sites.

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