The launch follows successful trials of the transformative technology over the past 11 months.
Zambian President Hakainde Hichilema presided over the occasion, which took place at Mulungushi International Conference Centre. Several Zambian government ministers and representatives of the sector regulator and central bank were also in attendance.
Leading the MTN Group delegation were Group Chairman Mcebisi Jonas, Group President and CEO Ralph Mupita and Southern and East Africa Vice President Yolanda Cuba.
Mcebisi Jonas stated that “The launch of this ultra-fast communication capacity serves as a clear indication of MTN’s commitment to being a major player in Zambia’s digital economy,” adding, “We look forward to continuing to work together to meaningfully impact the growth and development of Zambia.”
Ralph Mupita said MTN Zambia was the Group’s third operation in Africa (after Nigeria and South Africa) where 5G services were now commercially available.
“5G can transform business and livelihoods beyond simple connectivity, with the potential to unlock many new use cases,” he said. “In Zambia, we see great opportunities across many sectors, and in the mining industry in particular.”
MTN Zambia CEO, Bart Hofker said MTN’s 5G services had been activated to cover about 65% of the population in the cities of Lusaka, Kitwe and Ndola as well as parts of Chingola, Solwezi and Kalumbila. This translates into about 15% of the population.
“We plan to reach 100% 5G coverage in Lusaka, Kitwe and Ndola by the middle of 2023, while gradually expanding the 5G network to other locations,” he said, adding that MTN Zambia customers need a 5G-enabled device to connect to the 5G network where it is available.
5G is essentially fifth-generation mobile network technology which offers faster speeds, lower latency, better security and stability and the ability to handle high volume connections and mobile data. It can connect virtually everyone and everything, including machines, vehicles and robots in future.
For industries like mining and manufacturing, the network can be used to automate processes to increase capacity and efficiency. 5G also has the potential to be a driving force for innovation and entrepreneurship.
The introduction of 5G is part of a wider network strategy for MTN Zambia. Other programmes involve the optimisation and modernisation of existing 3G and 4G networks, the building of a fibre ring in Zambia with MTN GlobalConnect, as well as the extension of coverage in more rural areas.
Through MTN’s rural connectivity programme, MTN Zambia and its partners plan to use cost-effective coverage alternatives to launch 45 rural sites in 2022 and another 100 in 2023.
Meanwhile, In Ghana, MTN planned to launch 5G this year, but the plan was botched because the industry regulator, National Communications Authority (NCA) refused to issue MTN with the necessary spectrum to roll out the technology.
Indeed, in 2021, MTN Ghana CEO, Selorm Adadevoh announced that MTN had even readied a number of cell sites across the country for the 5G rollout in 2022. But he later stated that those plans could not come to fruition due to regulatory issues.
MTN was denied the spectrum because of it significant market power (SMP) status, for which reason the regulator has instituted a number of measures, including refusing to give MTN spectrum for 5G, to correct the market imbalance.
But MTN to executives, including the Group CEO and President and the West and Central Africa (WECA) Vice President, Eben Twum Asante, recently met with President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo in New York and placed a subtle request for the necessary spectrum to roll out 5G in Ghana.