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MWC Kigali: Safaricom CEO Peter Ndegwa on connectivity in Kenya

Safaricom CEO Peter Ndegwa joined Connecting Africa Editor Paula Gilbert at MWC Kigali 2023 for a video interview to talk about the telecoms market in Kenya.

He shared how the company is working to transition 2G customers off feature phones and onto 4G-enabled smartphones including device financing programs and education projects.

"From a connectivity perspective we believe the job has been largely done, the job to be done now is to make sure that people are able to access the Internet. There are various barriers – access to mobile phones, knowledge around how to use the Internet, and fear about what happens if I go onto the Internet. So, there is still a lot of work to be done to make sure that we connect everyone to the Internet and leave no one behind," he said.

He shared the telco's progress with its 5G rollout. Safaricom was the first operator in Kenya to launch 5G in 2022 and initially had about 300 sites, Ndegwa said. Safaricom is adding another 700-1,000 sites with an aim to have 2,000 5G sites in the next two-years.

"The biggest barrier has been the number of 5G users who have 5G-enabled phones and actually the cost of those 5G-enabled phones. There is about half a million 5G users in Kenya, in a market of 40 million, so it's still very early stage," he explained.

"But we have realized we can use big data analytics to understand which areas we should continue to rollout 5G based on where the devices sit. We are also starting to see the cost of devices reduced and the more they reduce we know there will be a lot of acceleration [in usage]," Ndegwa continued.

He said the initial use case for 5G in Kenya is for fixed wireless access (FWA) as an alternative to fiber.

He spoke about the telco's expansion into Ethiopia last year where it has grown the mobile customer base to over 5 million users and is piloting M-Pesa mobile money services in the Horn of Africa nation.

"Ethiopia is a future play for us, its about investing in the medium to long term. It will power the growth of Safaricom into the future," he said.

Follow Connecting Africa on our new X account @connect__africa to get the latest telecoms and tech news across Africa.

We also spoke about the evolution of fintech in Kenya and Safaricom's strategy to grow M-Pesa in the enterprise market.

— Paula Gilbert, Editor, Connecting Africa

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