Telecoms operator Airtel Kenya will next week begin testing its high-speed 4G Internet spectrum in Nairobi.
Airtel, the country’s second largest telco, said the trial phase would initially cover 40 new sites in the city before being expanded to 45 others in major towns, including Mombasa and Kisumu by the end of March.
“Airtel Kenya remains committed to competing in the Kenyan market and providing choice to Kenyans by further investing in the rollout of 4G services and continued network expansion,” said Airtel chief executive Adil El Youssefi.
Airtel will be playing catch up to market leader Safaricom, which rolled out 4G service commercially in October after conducting its own trials.
The operator, which has struggled to make inroads in the Kenyan market since its entry in 2010, will be required to get a licence from the Communications Authority of Kenya (CA) for about Sh2.5 billion before going commercial.
Safaricom has fully launched its 4G network in Nakuru, Eldoret, Meru, Kisii, Kisumu, Mombasa and Kisumu.
The 4G spectrum — the fourth generation of wireless mobile telecommunications technology — frequencies enable telcos to offer high-speed Internet to mobile phone customers as well as broadband-based TV broadcasts.
The spectrum utilises different frequencies to transmit data than its predecessor 3G, so subscribers will have to buy gadgets which are compatible with the network to access its benefits.
The regulator in 2015 issued Safaricom and Airtel with the 4G frequency spectrum on a pilot basis, limiting their use to certain geographical areas.
Airtel’s move to roll out the high-speed Internet is driven by the need to tighten its grip on the data market which, together with mobile money payment services, is seen as offering future growth opportunities.
The entry of over-the-top content providers such as Netflix and Amazon Prime into the local market is expected to drive this heavy usage of data.
Safaricom has been investing heavily in its 4G network as part of a Sh33 billion plan to expand its infrastructure with a target of constructing at least 500 more 4G base stations countrywide, doubling the current number.
Airtel Kenya says it will, to begin with, commercially operate the 85 new 4G base stations it will have test run, but increase them as demand for the service rises.
Following this investment, Airtel will have 1,563 base stations countrywide, an increase from 1,211 two years ago.
A fortnight ago, the mobile operator announced the retrenchment of 100 employees, the second such staff cuts in a year having already sent home another 60 in January 2016.
The operator termed the move as a “strategic organisational restructuring to improve efficiency across functions with an aim to enhance customer experience”.
“All the steps taken recently with regards to human resources and infrastructure have been geared towards getting ready to grow in the medium to long term, efficiently and sustainably,” said Mr El Youssefi.
Airtel Kenya’s market share at the three months to September improved by 0.9 percentage points to 17.5 per cent, having 178,840 new subscribers to its network to close the period with 6.76 million users, according to the latest CA statistics.