Government withholds 4G spectrum, calls for open-access network

23 Nov 2010

The Kenyan government has announced that it will not give the country’s mobile phone operators access to 4G spectrum. Instead it has called for the implementation of a public-private partnership (PPP), with a view to creating a Universal Access System (UAS) for all of the country’s telecoms operators. It is believed that the single network, joint ownership plan is being developed as a direct result of the problems the country experienced when issuing 3G licences at staggered intervals; Safaricom acquired a 3G licence for USD25 million in October 2007, only to demand recompense when late entrant Airtel Kenya (formerly Zain) was issued with a licence for USD10 million in June 2010.

Information Permanent Secretary Bitange Ndemo has indicated that the PPP system will concentrate on addressing the scarcity of spectrum, aiming to create a level playing field for all. Principal investors will have a year to roll out initial 4G infrastructure, with further frequencies released by government agencies in due course. It has been suggested that smaller operators will pay a service fee to those companies actually investing in the technology. Dr Ndemo commented: ‘We have close to 19 operators lined up for this kind of frequency which can only accommodate three operators if we use the old model to allocate it’.

According to TeleGeography’s GlobalComms Database, Safaricom launched technical trials of 4G in October. Outgoing CEO Michael Joseph said that Safaricom – Kenya’s leading mobile network by subscribers – planned to use the analogue frequencies left idle by the planned transition to digital television in 2015 for a Long Term Evolution (LTE) platform. Joseph explained that there were a number of spectrum options for Safaricom to operate in, but felt that the analogue frequencies would give the operator the required leeway for a commercial rollout.

Kenya, Safaricom