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Exclusive: Safaricom picks Huawei and Nokia for Ethiopia network

07 March 2022 | Alan Burkitt-Gray

Safaricom, the new operator in Ethiopia in which the UK government has a 10% stake, has chosen Huawei and Nokia kit for its mobile network, which it will launch in April.

Nokia will supply the core network and coverage of Addis Ababa, the capital, while Huawei will serve the rest of the country, a senior executive toldCapacity.

Matthew Harrison-Harvey (pictured), chief external affairs and regulatory officer at Safaricom Ethiopia, toldCapacity about the selection of Huawei: “We went through a governance process that approved that.”

He added that the government of Ethiopia and Safaricom Ethiopia’s shareholders have also approved the decision.

Exclusive: Safaricom picks Huawei and Nokia for Ethiopia network

The biggest shareholder in the company – originally called Global Partnership for Ethiopia – is Kenya’s Safaricom with 55.7%. Others are Japan’s Sumitomo with 27.2%, CDC Group with 10.9% and Vodacom of South Africa 6.2%.

Both Safaricom and Vodacom are part of the UK-based Vodafone group. The government of Ethiopia awarded the company its licence last year.

But what is intriguing about the suppliers is that CDC – formerly Commonwealth Development Corporation – is 100% owned by the UK government, through the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office.

Since 2020 the UK has applied a stern anti-Huawei policy to UK mobile operators in their 5G plans. They have been forbidden from ordering more Huawei kit for their 5G networks, and have a deadline to remove existing 5G kit.

The decision, though, reflects Safaricom Kenya’s statement in March 2021 that it will use Nokia and Huawei for its 5G, as reported by the Reuters news agency. This means that Safaricom will use the same vendors on each side of the Kenya-Ethiopia border.

Safaricom Ethiopia will be launching with 2G, 3G and 4G services from the start, Harrison-Harvey toldCapacity in an interview. “We have the capacity for 5G and that will be phased in,” he said.

Safaricom Ethiopia has spent US$1 billion so far of its planned $8.5 billion spend over 10 years.

Capacity will publish a full interview with Harrison-Harvey in the March-April issue.

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