Frehiwot Tamiru, CEO of Ethio telecom, presents the company's annual performance report at the Hyatt Regency Hotel on July 13, 2021.

Ethio telecom is undergoing network infrastructure and system enhancements to pilot 5G networks in the coming year.

Investing 41 million dollars, the state-owned giant has upgraded its business management system to the Huawei-powered 'New Generation Business Support System (NGBSS)'. It is designed to allow Ethio telecom to bill 5G network services, a feat that would have been impossible with the current system in place.  It also offers subscribers improved options when buying voice or mobile data packages from the company, allowing them the freedom to choose how many minutes or megabytes they want to buy.

The testing phase to migrate subscribers to the system has been completed, and full migration will take place within two weeks, disclosed Frehiwot Tamiru, CEO of Ethio telecom. The expansion of network infrastructure that can accommodate the network services will follow, she said. Pre-existing 4G infrastructure can be upgraded to integrate 5G features, she said.

"We've made some of our networks ready for 5G," Frehiwot told Fortune.

With the coming into the market of a foreign telecom operator, the state-owned telecom provider has been gearing up to retain its subscriber base and maintain the rate of growth it has been enjoying in solitude for over a century. The company recorded close to 30 billion Br in capital and operational expenditure and reported 56.5 billion Br in gross profits last year. Its expenses went up to 70.8 billion Br over the same period.

The Global Partnership for Ethiopia Consortium (GPEC), led by Kenya's Safaricom, was officially granted the first private telecommunication operators license last week. The Consortium is to brand itself in Ethiopia as Safaricom Telecommunications Ethiopia Plc, and plans to begin operation with 4G network services and quickly introduce 5G. Having acquired a 15-year telecom operation license for 850 million dollars, the operator is scheduled to start in early 2022.

Those in the industry speculate that the Consortium may be interested in agreeing with Ethio telecom instead of developing its own infrastructure. However, an official from the Consortium disclosed that they have not yet decided whether to rent out infrastructure from Ethio telecom.

The Consortium is also allowed to develop its own infrastructure, while limitations have been placed on bringing in third-party infrastructure developers. The restriction was indicated as one of the reasons international operators of the highest calibre, such as Etisalat Telecom, Orange and Saudi Telecom, refrained from placing a bid. Restrictions on mobile money were another.

If a deal is made between the two, Ethio telecom is expecting earnings but will have to recalibrate its rates to adjust for the absence of one telecom operator, according to Frehiwot, who refrained from disclosing the rates offered as negotiations are still underway.

Ethio telecom first launched 4G LTE services in 2015 in selected parts of Addis Abeba. The company has since expanded the service to 68 cities in all regional states of the country, except for the warn-torn Tigray Regional State, where the telecom provider claims to have lost billions in revenue due to the ongoing conflict.

Globally, 5G network services for commercial use were first deployed in 2018 by Verizon. In Africa, 5G networks are available in Kenya and South Africa.

PUBLISHED ON Jul 18,2021 [ VOL 22 , NO 1107]

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