Will it be second time lucky for Safaricom’s new venture? Safaricom Telecommunications Ethiopia has announced that it will begin a phased commercial launch in August 2022 after missing its original April 2022 start date.
The plan is to switch on the network in 25 cities across the country by April 2023, starting with Dire Dawa in eastern Ethiopia near Djibouti, whose subsea cables will help to link Safaricom with international networks. Timings for the remaining cities – and indeed the names of those cities – have not yet been revealed.
According to a number of local and international news services, the company has said that it has invested US$1 billion, including a licence fee and imported equipment worth over $300 million. The investments also include towers, a national transmission network and wholesale agreements for international connectivity.
The rollout delays that held off an April launch are perhaps excusable given the disruption caused by the ongoing conflict in the country’s Tigray region. However, Safaricom has claimed that a core network, IT, products and services, a call centre and two data centres are ready. It also says it has signed infrastructure sharing and interconnect agreements with Ethio Telecom and conducted a big, and ongoing, recruitment drive which has already signed up 500 staff.
Mention of Ethio Telecom is a reminder that the state-owned incumbent has taken advantage of its status as sole player in the market to launch a successful mobile money service called Telebirr.
Eventually, one assumes, Telebirr will have to take on the might of the M-Pesa brand. However, even if Safaricom, the first private operator in Ethiopia – and the only one after a second new licence offer was put on hold – can offer effective competition to the incumbent it may not be in a position to do so until 2023.