Not too surprisingly, there was a formal ceremony to celebrate the occasion, with the country’s president and a number of ministers in attendance as well as senior MTN figures.
Discussing markets, MTN CEO Ralph Mupita said, possibly with a nod to private network rollouts, that "in Zambia, we see great opportunities across many sectors, and in the mining industry in particular”.
MTN’s 5G services, which follow 5G trials over the past 11 months, have 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 – about 15% of the whole country’s population. The aim, it seems, is to reach 100% 5G coverage in Lusaka, Kitwe and Ndola by the middle of 2023, while gradually expanding the 5G network to other locations.
The introduction of 5G is described by MTN Zambia as part of a wider network strategy that includes the optimisation and modernisation of existing 3G and 4G networks, the building of a fibre ring in Zambia with MTN GlobalConnect, and the extension of coverage in more rural areas.
This is quite a coup for what is, according to market research firm Omdia, the second-biggest mobile operator in Zambia, with around 7.1 million mobile subscribers against Airtel Zambia’s total of nearly 7.9 million subscribers. Number three player Zamtel has about 4.2 million subscribers.
MTN Zambia may not be the country’s sole 5G player for long, however. In October Airtel Zambia purchased 60MHz of additional spectrum spread across the 800MHz and 2600MHz bands for around US$29 million. It plans to use the spectrum for expanding its mobile and fixed services; that will include 5G rollout.