How 5G Internet Will Transform Kenya.
Note: This blog post was first published as an article in the August 2023 edition of the Marketing Society of Kenya (MSK) Sokoni Magazine.
The Internet as we know it has been a game-changer for Kenya in a myriad of ways in the last couple of decades or so. We have gone from slow Internet speeds via analogue dial-up modems from before the millennium all the way to where we are today with 5G becoming widely available nationwide. The journey to 5G and broadband Internet in general has been one of numerous iterations that have resulted in the massive digital transformation that Kenya has experienced to date with the COVID-19 pandemic acting as a catalyst to speeding up the process.
The Current State of 5G In Kenya.
When it comes to 5G in Kenya, Safaricom launched their offering in October 2022 with 35 active sites in Kisumu, Nairobi, Mombasa, Kisii, and Kakamega with plans to expand that to 100 sites by March 2023 across the country in major cities and towns. From the onset, it was clearly evident that Safaricom was prioritizing 5G for fixed Wi-Fi service in homes and offices where the need would be greatest. This made complete sense since although Kenya had 27 million active smartphones last year, only 200,000 of these had 5G capabilities.
In July 2023, Airtel Kenya also launched their 5G service which comes 8 months after Safaricom did the same so Airtel Kenya will have some catching up to do to gain decent ground going forward. However, what is impressive is that Airtel Kenya’s 5G network is available in 28 towns across 21 counties with 370 active 5G sites in 180 wards. This means that Airtel Kenya’s 5G network has parity with Safaricom’s and it will be interesting to see how this plays out going forward as far as uptake is concerned between the two mobile networks.
Making A Case For 5G In Kenya.
However, rather than focus on whether Safaricom or Airtel Kenya have better and/or faster 5G networks, I’d like to explore in this article the nuances of 5G as a transformational technology that has the potential to disrupt the status quo as we know it for the Internet in Kenya. Indeed, 5G as we know it in Kenya is still a very nascent offering and one that has the challenge of reliable network coverage as well as affordable mobile devices and routers that are currently out of the reach of most businesses and consumers.
However, just like we saw with the arrival of 3G and 4G in Kenya, each of these mobile broadband technologies had a profound impact on how consumers and businesses were able to use the Internet in a myriad of previously unforeseen and even impossible ways. The same thing will come to pass with 5G when it goes truly mainstream in Kenya and we start to see the emergence of new and possibly unimaginable use cases that transcend what we thought was possible via the Internet.
What’s The Big Deal About 5G? Speed!
The most impressive thing about 5G is its lightning-fast speeds with download speeds reaching up to 1Gbps which means it outperforms its predecessors, 4G and 3G, by a considerable margin. This means that you can stream videos, download large files, and play online games with minimal buffering and lag. 5G also has peak data rates of up to 20Gbps meaning users can expect average download speeds of around 1Gbps, which is about 10 times faster than 4G. Think about that for a second. 5G is really fast to the extent that we still don’t know many of the use cases that will really stretch its capabilities just yet.
Businesses can also benefit from the increased productivity and efficiency that comes with this new level of connectivity. Whereas we once found 3G incredibly fast compared to 2.5G or EDGE and thereafter found 4G much faster, 5G is on a whole new level when compared to any of its predecessors.
5G Accelerates Digital Transformation For Businesses.
For me, what this ultimately means is getting more done faster and even better when you have Internet speeds that are this fast. 5G’s lightning-fast speeds and low latency mean businesses can accelerate their digital transformation journey. Enhanced connectivity allows organizations to leverage the power of cloud computing, big data analytics, and artificial intelligence or AI to streamline operations, optimize decision-making, and drive innovation.
One of the most notable improvements in 5G is its reduced latency. Latency refers to the time it takes for data to travel from one point to another. 5G means latency is cut down to a mere 1 millisecond, making real-time communication and online gaming experiences smoother than ever. This also opens up new possibilities for innovative applications in various industries, such as healthcare, transportation, and entertainment.
5G Has Much More Data Capacity Than 3G or 4G.
5G is designed to handle a greater volume of data traffic compared to previous generations. This increased capacity allows more users to connect without compromising speed and performance. In urban areas, where network congestion is common, 5G will ensure that everyone can stay connected without any hiccups.
5G uses network slicing, which creates multiple virtual networks within a single physical network. This enables more efficient use of network resources and tailored connectivity for specific applications or user groups.
5G also makes it possible for Individuals to enjoy seamless streaming of high-quality video content, including 4K and 8K resolution, without buffering. This means better experiences with services like Netflix, YouTube, and other streaming platforms. Moreover, online gaming will be smoother with reduced latency, allowing for more immersive experiences.
The Internet of Things (IoT) Becomes Much Better With 5G.
5G is also a game-changer for the Internet of Things (IoT) and smart cities. It has faster speeds, lower latency, and increased capacity that enables the seamless integration of devices, sensors, and systems in real-time. This interconnectivity will eventually pave the way for smart homes, traffic management systems, and other IoT applications that enhance our daily lives and make our cities more efficient.
Businesses can also deploy IoT devices, sensors, and automation systems with real-time data collection and analysis capabilities, leading to increased efficiency, safety, and sustainability. Examples include smart manufacturing, precision agriculture, and supply chain management. The incredible potential for IoT applications in the context of Kenya and 5G cannot be overstated. This is something that can change industries and sectors in so many ways that could be truly disruptive.
5G Makes Virtual Reality (VR) & Augmented Reality (AR) Truly Practical.
Businesses can also leverage 5G to deliver immersive, personalized, and real-time customer experiences. From augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) shopping experiences to faster mobile apps, 5G connectivity allows businesses to differentiate themselves and meet the evolving needs of their customers. We are entering an era where consumers and businesses are becoming more and more at home in VR and AR experiences which are improving dramatically as the technologies continue to evolve and mature for mass adoption. My sense is that it’s only a matter of time before VR and AR move from being something of a novelty to becoming indispensable for brands to connect with consumers and other stakeholders at scale.
Remote Work Becomes Much Easier & Better With 5G.
As more and more businesses in Kenya embrace remote and hybrid models of work as we have seen during and after the pandemic, 5G’s reliable and fast connectivity empowers employees to collaborate and communicate seamlessly, regardless of their location.
This improved efficiency will lead to higher productivity and allow businesses to tap into a broader pool of talent, locally and globally. In a nutshell, 5G will enable individuals to work from home more efficiently.
Faster speeds, reduced latency, and increased reliability will ensure that video conferencing, file sharing, and cloud-based collaboration tools function optimally, enhancing productivity and communication.
What Is The Way Forward For 5G In Kenya?
The reality of the situation on the ground today in Kenya where 5G is concerned is that we are still very much in the early adopter phase. This is largely due to the fact that 5G network coverage is still quite spotty for most users and the mobile devices as well as the routers that work with it are quite expensive for the average Kenyan consumer or business.
As we saw with 4G in Kenya, what needs to happen is for the 5G networks to become much more widespread and accessible, and at the same time we need to get to the point that the mobile devices and routers are much more affordable. Once this happens, we can expect 5G to become truly mainstream at scale throughout Kenya. The dividend of this scenario which will hopefully come to pass in a few years’ time is that the digital transformation of all stakeholders in Kenya will be greatly enhanced and this will positively impact the country in a significant way.