Photo by RP M / Unsplash

MTN-Uganda a subsidiary of MTN group unveiled the first 5G network in the East African region. 

The Telecom giant which currently dominates the market with 17 million subscribers hopes the service will propel the country’s digital and financial inclusivity to greater heights.

5G also known as the 5th generation mobile network is a new global wireless standard that enables a new kind of network with a purpose to virtually connect everyone and everything. The wireless technology is meant to deliver higher multi-Gbps peak data speeds, ultra-low latency, more reliability, massive network capacity, increased availability, and a more uniform user experience to more users. 

To an average mobile user, this means faster data speeds and lower latency or response time.

MTN Uganda’s journey towards 5G began in 2020 when it embarked on a Proof of Concept with its partners to assess the service’s potential. It then entered a strategic five-year alliance with Huawei, a Chinese multinational tech giant to execute a broad modernization project for a 5G-ready core network. Later in May 2023, it launched the first 5G use case for industries in Uganda.

The company invested UGX 95.4 billion (US$25.4 million) which was directed towards upgrading the existing 4G network to 5G, bolstering the fixed broadband access infrastructure, and laying the foundation for the official rollout of 5G services at the beginning of 2023.

MTN Uganda CEO Sylvia Mulinge commented on the launch. She said:

“We are incredibly proud to be the first to be live with a 5G network in Uganda, and we firmly believe that this cutting-edge network service will play a pivotal role in driving ICT solutions for economic growth and fostering unparalleled digital experiences for all Ugandans.”

Aside from enabling its customers to enjoy better service delivery, MTN’s 5G launch is expected to bolster Uganda’s ICT scene, in the country’s push for more foreign investments and a broadened tech ecosystem.

Uganda joins other African countries such as South Africa, Kenya, and Nigeria that have already adopted this service although most of the telecom operators only cover urban areas.

Mark Walker, associate vice president for sub-Saharan Africa at telecoms consultancy IDC, says the rapid connections made possible by 5G will be essential to unlock the benefits of rapidly developing technologies. “We’re starting to move into the area of big data, machine learning and AI, and the Internet of Things,” says Walker. “There’s a strong argument for the use of 5G. I think that’s where the benefit would be expected.”

Even though 5G has the potential to transform Africa’s ICT infrastructure, Smartphone affordability is still a limiting factor. 5G-compatible phones and smartphones are expensive, something the average African may not be able to afford.  

Looking to the future, MTN Uganda plans to extend its 5G coverage considerably but will first attain complete 5G coverage in the capital Kampala, by the close of 2024. 

Chief Rival Airtel Uganda says it has made significant progress towards 5G readiness. As early as February this year, it had completed a comprehensive upgrade of its core network although it has not yet ventured into the provision of commercial 5G services.