Airtel joins the 5G race in Nigeria


The operator becomes the third in the country to launch 5G, following in the footsteps of market leader MTN and newcomer Mafab Communications.

This week, Airtel Nigeria has announced the commercial launch of its 5G services, with its initial deployment focussed on the major cities of Abuja, Lagos, and Port Harcourt.

According to the operator, users with a 5G-capable handset or router will now be able to access improved services, featuring lower latency, higher speeds, and increased capacity.

Airtel Nigeria firstacquired 5G spectrum in January this year, winning 100MHz of 3.5GHz spectrum as the sole bidder in the Nigerian Communication Commission’s second 5G spectrum auction. They soon followed up by winning two blocks of 10MHZ spectrum in the 2.6GHz band the following month.

Initial 5G services will be provided over the 3.5GHz band, with the 2.6GHz spectrum being used to boost capacity on the network.

It is worth noting here that Airtel is actually somewhat late to the 5G party in Nigeria. The operator missed out on securing 5G spectrum in the nation’s first 5G auction back in 2021, having been outbid for the two spectrum licences available by the country’s largest mobile operator MTN Nigeria and newcomer Mafab Communications.

Both operators secured 100MHz of 3.5GHz spectrum for roughly $273.6 million.

MTN subsequently launched commercial 5G services in September last year, doing so on a larger scale than Airtel, covering Ibadan, Kano, Owerri, and Maiduguri, in addition to Lagos, Abuja, and Port Harcourt.

Mafab Communications’ 5G launch was somewhat delayed by licencing issues, but the company nonetheless launched its commercial offering in January this year. However, the greenfield mobile operator’s 5G deployment is considerably smaller than its larger rivals, only covering parts of the capital, Abuja, at least for now.

Thus, with three operators all launching 5G services in the capital and beyond, it would seem that the race to deploy 5G across the Nigeria has officially begun. But to what extent the operators will prioritise this rollout remains to be seen.

4G services were only introduced to the country in 2017 and, since then, the operators have focussed heavily on expanding coverage of this older technology. Around 20,000 additional base stations have been deployed over the past three years, allowing 4G coverage to top three-quarters of the country of last year.

Couple this with the fact that very few customers will have 5G capable phones and it is clear that 5G adoption is unlikely to boom in Nigeria for a few years at least.

Nonetheless, Airtel’s 5G launch lays a much-needed foundation for the country’s more connected future and ensures that Africa’s largest economy will remain a technological leader on the continent.

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