This week, Airtel Nigeria announced the commercial launch of its 5G services, focusing initially on the major cities of Abuja, Lagos, and Port Harcourt. The operator claims that users equipped with a 5G-capable handset or router can now enjoy improved services, including lower latency, higher speeds, and increased capacity.

In January this year, Airtel Nigeria acquired 5G spectrum, winning 100MHz of 3.5GHz spectrum as the sole bidder in the Nigerian Communication Commission’s second 5G spectrum auction. The company quickly followed this up by securing two blocks of 10MHz spectrum in the 2.6GHz band the following month. For now, the initial 5G services will be provided over the 3.5GHz band, with the additional 2.6GHz spectrum being utilized to boost network capacity.

It’s important to note that Airtel is not the first to bring 5G technology to Nigeria. The company missed the opportunity to secure 5G spectrum in the country’s first 5G auction in 2021, having been outbid for the two licenses available by MTN Nigeria and newcomer Mafab Communications. Both operators subsequently acquired 100MHz of 3.5GHz spectrum for roughly $273.6 million.

MTN Nigeria launched its commercial 5G services in September last year on a larger scale, covering additional cities such as Ibadan, Kano, Owerri, and Maiduguri, in addition to Lagos, Abuja, and Port Harcourt. Meanwhile, Mafab Communications’ 5G launch, although delayed due to licensing issues, finally took place in January this year. However, the new mobile operator’s 5G deployment is more limited in comparison to its rivals, covering only parts of the capital, Abuja.

With three operators now offering 5G services in Nigeria, the race to deploy 5G has officially started. However, to what extent these operators will prioritize this rollout remains uncertain. The introduction of 4G services in the country happened only in 2017, and since then, the focus has been on expanding the coverage of this older technology. Over the past three years, around 20,000 additional base stations have been deployed, allowing 4G coverage to extend to over three-quarters of the country.

Considering that very few customers currently possess 5G-capable devices, it is evident that 5G adoption in Nigeria may not experience rapid growth for a few more years. Nevertheless, Airtel’s 5G launch establishes a vital groundwork for the country’s connected future, ensuring that Africa’s largest economy will continue to be a technological leader on the continent.