Airtel Kenya chief operating officer Shivan Bhargava has responded to questions over the year-long delay surrounding its 3G network launch by promising that the belated service will be operational by end-March 2012. In an email to Kenyan daily newspaper The Star, Bhargava confirmed: ‘We will continue to offer more innovative products and services, including the increased depth of [mobile wallet service] Airtel Money, and the introduction of our world-class 3G HSPA [network] this quarter’.
According to TeleGeography’s GlobalComms Database, in June 2010 Airtel was awarded a 3G licence by the Communications Commission of Kenya (CCK) for a fee of USD10 million, with the CCK cutting the price from USD25 million earlier that month in order to encourage operator take-up. In January 2011 Airtel announced that it intended to launch its long-awaited 3G network in March, after the completion of its KES25 billion rollout. Although the date passed without launch, March 2011 did see Airtel sign a five-year deal with broadband provider Kenya Data Networks (KDN) to utilise its fibre-optic network for backhaul purposes ahead of the planned launch. Under the terms of the partnership, KDN was due to connect Airtel’s 500 mobile base stations using its 6,500km countrywide fibre-optic network. Despite unconfirmed reports of field tests during the summer of 2011, the Indian-owned operator remained tight-lipped over its plans. Worryingly for the cellco, rival Telkom Kenya – which secured a 3G licence a full five months after Airtel – went on to launch its UMTS network in August 2011, albeit on a limited basis, meaning that Airtel is already playing catch-up in the wireless broadband sector.