Ethio Telecom, the state-owned telecom operator in Ethiopia has launched a 5G mobile phone service. With this initiative, Ethiopia joins other leading African countries like Kenya and Nigeria which are integrating the technology.
5G networks provide data speeds at least 20 times faster than 4G and would drive emerging technologies like self-driving cars, and enable communication and interconnectivity between smart devices.
Ethio Telecom Chief Executive Officer Frehiwot Tamru said the service will be deployed first in the capital Addis Ababa, before eventually spreading to other parts of the country.
"The 5G service is launched in selected places in Addis Ababa," she said at a launch event. "In the coming 12 months, we will have 150 5G sites in Addis Ababa and outside Addis Ababa."
The network will be available in strategic areas in the capital Addis Ababa, including the area around Ethio Telecom's head office. Also, at the premises of Bole International Airport, before being expanded to cover other parts of the country.
Ethio Telecom, which has 64 million subscribers across the nation, said in a separate statement that China's Huawei Technologies (HWT.UL) was its equipment supplier for the network.
At the East Africa Com event opened virtually on May 10, it was disclosed that 5G connectivity in Africa is on the rise but still lagging behind 3G and 4G networks.
Despite expected growth over the next five years, 5G subscriptions will not exceed 20 million in Africa by 2026, according to Omdia's Senior ICT research analyst, Thecla Mbongue.
Omdia is a research and advisory group. Ms Mbongue says 5G will represent less than 10 per cent of the continent's mobile usage by 2025.
During the virtual event, Kenechi Okeleke, Director for social and regional research at the Global System for Mobile Communications Association (GSMA), said work has been done in Kenya to deploy the network.
Describing 5G growth in Africa as “a mixed bag”, Mr Okeleke indicated that the Covid pandemic had shown the need for enhanced connectivity and driven demand for connectivity.
“Actual network launches have been slow; we have not seen the number of deployments we wished we had seen,” he added.
At the event, experts noted that the east African economy would greatly benefit from the advances that 5G would bring to several sectors, including agriculture, and called on governments to support 5G infrastructure projects.
The government launched a tendering process for selling a 40% stake in Ethio Telecom to private investors last June.
5G commercial networks have been launched in key countries such as Botswana, South Africa, Seychelles, Nigeria, Mauritius and Zimbabwe, but the technology remains largely underdeveloped in larger parts of Africa.