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Head-To-Head Internet Download Speed Test(s): Safaricom 5G vs Airtel 5G In Kenya.

I have been meaning to write this blog post for a few months ever since I had the opportunity to review the 5G services from Safaricom and Airtel in Kenya last year. Safaricom launched their 5G services in late 2022 whereas Airtel did so around July 2023. Since then, Safaricom and Airtel have been slugging it out in terms of making their 5G services more competitive by offering incentives on their various packages as well as lowering the prices of their 5G WiFi routers. 

In terms of network rollouts, both Safaricom and Airtel Kenya are also in a race to build out their national coverage for 5G services extensively. Going forward, in 2024 and beyond, one thing is clear — 5G will become as ubiquitous as 3G and 4G are today in Kenya as more and more mobile subscribers invest in affordable 5G-enabled devices and network coverage expands exponentially. I am also assuming that both Telkom Kenya and Faiba Mobile will join the fray in due course for their own 5G networks. 

Therefore, in the same way, we take 4G for granted today, 5G will become just as common but with the added benefits of massively faster and more reliable Internet services for consumers and businesses in Kenya. 5G is expected to accelerate digital transformation across a myriad of scenarios in Kenya as well as globally when it becomes truly mainstream. However, given that the reality of 5G at scale in Kenya will take a good number of years to realize, we have not yet even started to scratch the surface of its full potential. 

I’m not sure exactly when Safaricom 5G became fully active where I currently live but it seems to have happened in the last few weeks or so. I only realized it was here when I had to go on my phone’s hotspot recently during a power outage. The speeds are very good and this prompted me to finally get around to doing this head-to-head comparison of Safaricom 5G vs Airtel 5G via a range of speed tests to establish between them which is the the faster 5G network. 

The basic methodology I used for the speed tests was to drive to several locations in Nairobi looking for active 5G signals for Safaricom and Airtel. This was not an easy task since coverage is still quite quite spotty in many locations and rarely would you have both 5G signals at the same time. That being said, from the many speed tests I took I then settled on the three fastest download speed tests for Safaricom and Airtel respectively. The following is what I got:

Airtel Kenya 5G:

Safaricom 5G:

I had honestly expected a closer result between Safaricom and Airtel but the numbers show that Safaricom has a significant edge on 5G network speeds in Kenya. Safaricom peaked at a very impressive 411Mbps which is the fastest I have ever seen to date on their 5G network. Airtel on the other hand in this instance peaked at a respectable 194Mbps today but I recall getting speeds of around 245Mbps last year in October 2023 when I reviewed their 5G service. 

Based on how I did these speed tests, some considerations could have impacted the results I got. For instance, in the case of Safaricom, I used my 5G-enabled smartphone to connect directly to their service whereas for Airtel I had to rely on their 5G WiFi router since it’s not yet possible to use the 5G service on smartphones after checking with their customer support — it simply doesn’t work on smartphones which is quite frustrating. The other factors could be network performance related such as how many subscribers were connected to each of the 5G base stations when I was running the speed tests. 

If nothing else, these results are a broad indicator of how both Safaricom’s and Airtel’s 5G networks are currently performing from a download speed perspective. Going forward, these findings are representative of only the very early and nascent moments for 5G in Kenya and I am sure that there will be closer download speeds in the coming months and years as Safaricom and Airtel continue to make massive investments in their 5G network capabilities. Whatever the case, the future looks very bright for 5G in Kenya and its potential to enhance digital transformation across the board. 

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