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Did Airtel Kenya Make Safaricom Rethink Its 5G WiFi Service Offerings?

Something interesting happened a couple of weeks ago and no one seems to be really saying much about the other side of this story. In late October 2023, Safaricom announced price reductions and package changes around its 5G WiFi router offerings and more specifically those targeting consumers. To be specific, Safaricom, as does Airtel Kenya, both offer 5G mobile device and WiFi router data packages so what we are looking at here is how these currently look at this time.

Reduced Pricing For Safaricom’s 5G WiFi Router(s).

So, this happened two weeks ago so it’s not exactly news but a deeper analysis tells us an interesting story. When Safaricom launched its 5G services in Kenya it was selling its 5G WiFi routers like the TCL one I reviewed some months ago for Kes. 25,000.00 if you want to buy it one go. However, you could also pay for it over time for periods as long as 36 months using financing options.

Kes. 25,000.00 is a lot of money for anyone or a business to buy a 5G WiFi router but do bear in mind that the TLC router can connect up to 256 concurrent users which is impressive for a home or business user. Safaricom also requires you to pay a Kes. 5,000.00 connection fee for all its 5G WiFi services for consumers and businesses so the total investment had been a massive Kes. 30,000.00 – definitely not inexpensive in the current economic environment in Kenya!

Along Came Airtel Kenya To The 5G WiFi Party!

When Airtel Kenya launched their 5G offerings in Kenya in July 2023 they came to market with a Kes. 10,0000 5G WiFi router, albeit one that can only handle up to a maximum of 64 concurrent users. That being said, this router also comes with a free power bank / UPS included for this price. I personally tested the Airtel Kenya 5G WiFi router and was able to extract over 2 hours of usage off the grid. That’s impressive and the 4G and 5G speeds are really good, too. So, for comparison, see below how these two offerings stack up:

5G Wifi Service / ProductOld Price (Kes)New Price (Kes)Connection Fee (Kes)
Safaricom 5G WiFi Router (256 Concurrent Connections)25,000.009,999.005,000.00
Airtel 5G WiFi Router (64 Concurrent Connections + Power Bank)10,000.0010,000.000.00

So what we can see is that Safaricom actually matched the 5G WiFi router pricing for Airtel Kenya. I have used both of these routers for my reviews and I can assure you that the one from Safaricom is heftier and feels more robust when you handle it – it’s a well-built router! On the other hand, the Airtel Kenya router is much lighter and feels significantly less substantial than Safaricom’s (read: cheaper?) but does a great job irrespective. I don’t want to delve into all the nuances between these routers but all I can say is that Safaricom is probably losing money on theirs in a bid to win more market share.

Safaricom Takes An Unexpected Haircut On Its 5G WiFi Consumer Offerings?

It becomes very evident that Safaricom must have been having a hard(er) time acquiring the consumer market segment for its 5G Wifi consumer offerings when in late October 2023 they announced price reductions as high as 60%. It is possible that Airtel Kenya has been hampering Safaricom’s uptake since July 2023 when their 5G service went live? Have a look at how the current Airtel Kenya and Safaricom 5G WiFi service packages look at this time:

5G Wifi Consumer Service / ProductPrice (Kes)Old Data Cap (GB)New Data Cap (GB)Speed Cap (Mbps)
Safaricom 5G Consumer Basic Data Bundle3,499.0030040010
Safaricom 5G Consumer Standard Data Bundle5,999.0050080040
Safaricom 5G Consumer Extra Data Bundle14,999.001,0001,500100
Airtel Kenya 5G Ultra – 10GB daily2,999.00300300Unlimited
Airtel Kenya 5G Ultra – 20GB daily4,999.00600600Unlimited

I have been using the Airtel Kenya 5G WiFi consumer service extensively over the last few months and I have repeatedly said on this blog, and other social media, that it’s a good service and seems well-priced. The Kes. 2,999.00 Ultra 10GB daily package gives me 10GB of data a day on a monthly basis and I am yet to blow that limit even as I use it from home where I work most of the time these days. It’s also a highly portable router that you can chuck into a bag and use off the grid for a few hours thanks to the power bank / UPS that comes with it.

When you look at the revised packages for the Safaricom 5G WiFi consumer service you can see that it’s not the pricing that changed but rather the amount of data you get per month in each instance. Even if you are getting larger data allocation for the same price there is also a much bigger question around the speed cap for each of these Safaricom packages whereas in the case of Airtel Kenya, they do not cap your speed.

So, coming back to basics the whole point of 5G internet is the speed it offers and what we can see is that you are getting modest speeds and data capping at the same. The math is not ‘mathing’ for me, even if Safaricom has done a decent job trying to get their consumer offerings to be more appealing on this basis.

The other caveat is that in many scenarios where you could get a decent home Internet connection from Safaricom, Zuku, JTL Faiba, or any other decent Internet Service Provider (ISP) you would probably opt for those given that you get true unlimited Internet service at the same or lower pricing. My guess is that you would get the 5G Wifi consumer services from Safaricom or Airtel on the basis of being in an area that is not served by these fiber-based Internet offerings or you simply want a faster and/or back-up Internet connection.

It Gets Worse For Safaricom On Their 5G WiFi Business Packages.

Safaricom has NOT reduced the pricing for their 5G WiFi business packages since they launched last year. However, a side-by-side comparison once again shows that their packages are not as appealing as Airtel Kenya’s for a couple of reasons:

5G Wifi Business Service / ProductPrice (Kes)Data Cap (GB)Speed Cap (Mbps)
Safaricom 5G Business Basic Data Bundle4,500.0030020
Safaricom 5G Business Standard Data Bundle7,000.0050050
Safaricom 5G Business Premium Extra Data Bundle14,999.001,000100
Airtel Kenya 5G Enterprise 5G Unlimited 10Mbps3,500.00Unlimited10
Airtel Kenya 5G Enterprise 5G Unlimited 30Mbps5,500.00Unlimited30
Airtel Kenya 5G Enterprise 5G Unlimited 50Mbps7,500.00Unlimited50

The first is that Safaricom is capping both data and speed for all their packages whereas in Airtel Kenya’s scenario, it’s only the speeds that are capped. In both cases, I am again wondering why both Safaricom and Airtel Kenya have decided to cap speed since that’s the whole point of 5G Internet to begin with.

However, Airtel Kenya at least has not capped the amount of data you can use per month although I am certain there must be a fair use policy (FUP) in place as is normally the case these days for all ISPs including those who claim to offer unlimited Internet in all its forms.

The other thing you will notice is that Safaricom is offering higher speeds relative to Airtel Kenya’s and this perhaps gives some credence to their 5G WiFi business packages with the main shortcoming being that they also cap their data.

Want Does All This Mean Going Forward For 5G WiFi Services In Kenya?

I honestly think we are seeing the very first stages of a 5G ‘battle royale’ in Kenya between Safaricom and Airtel Kenya. Safaricom’s latest pricing and data package changes suggest that Airtel Kenya will also probably respond given that they announced they would be rolling out over 100 new 5G sites in Kenya by the end of 2023.

At the same time, Safaricom also recently announced that they are now live on 5G in 35 counties with over 500,000 users nationwide as of last month. This is still very early days for 5G in Kenya and we have not even seen other mobile networks like JTL Faiba and Telkom Kenya come to the party yet!

One thing that’s certain is that by the time we get through 2024, things may look very different for 5G in terms of coverage, uptake, and pricing across all the mobile networks in Kenya to benefit of consumers and businesses.

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2 Comments

  1. generic user
    December 29, 2023 at 5:57 pm — Reply

    Just purchased the 5G Safaricom Router and I would like to update that, there’s no Speed Cap

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