ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) – State-owned operator Ethio Telecom launched a 5G mobile phone service on Monday, a key step ahead of competition from new entrants in a sector closed to international players.
Next-generation 5G networks can deliver data speeds at least 20 times faster than 4G and are considered important for emerging technologies such as self-driving cars and enable communication and interconnectivity between smart devices.
Ethio Telecom chief executive Frehiwot Tamru said the service will be available in the capital Addis Ababa first, before eventually expanding to other parts of the country.
“5G service is being launched in selected locations in Addis Ababa,” she said at a launch event. “In the next 12 months, we will have 150 5G sites in Addis Ababa and outside Addis Ababa.”
Frehiwot did not specify how much the network deployment would cost.
Ethio Telecom, which has 64 million subscribers across the country, said in a separate statement that China’s Huawei Technologies was its equipment supplier for the network.
It recorded a 6.7% increase in revenue to 28 billion birr ($544.40 million) in its half year to December 31.
The government last June launched a bidding process to sell a 40% stake in Ethio Telecom to private investors.
In March, the government said it had postponed the planned partial privatization due to the prevailing domestic and global economic environment.
In December, the Ethiopian Communications Authority, the sector regulator, announced that it had also suspended a bidding process for a second telecommunications license, which it said it would relaunch in a ” near future”.
The Horn of Africa country of around 110 million people sold just one of two full-service licenses on offer in May 2021.
The first license winner, a consortium led by Kenya’s Safaricom SCOM.NR, Vodafone and Japan’s Sumitomo, is in the process of setting up its network ahead of an expected commercial launch at any time.
The licenses are seen as a big prize in the country’s efforts to liberalize the economy, which had been one of the last major closed telecommunications markets in the world.
(Editing by George Obulutsa, William Maclean)
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