By Muthoki Mumo
Three telecom companies have applied to the regulator for an extension on their 4G trial licences after the lifetime of the permits expired before they could launch the services.
The 4G licences for Jamii Telecom and Airtel expired before they could launch the high-speed internet services.
Although Telkom Kenya became the second operator to offer 4G Internet this year, the company is still in the trial phase and is also seeking an extension for its licence.
The telecom operators have had difficulty in acquiring base stations while they also didn’t have financial muscle required to roll out the high-speed Internet, the regulator said in an interview.
The Communications Authority of Kenya (CA) however says the three operators are free to continue their trial as applications for their licence extensions are reviewed.
“If a firm has submitted an application for extension of the period for the trial license, it is not required to switch off the service awaiting consideration of the request,” said the CA in a statement.
Jamii telecom’s one-year trial licence lapsed on September 15, according to the CA.
The Jamii Telecom chairman, Joshua Chepkwony, in an interview however disputed the CA’s dates saying his current licence would expire in June 2018. He described as “a lengthy and tedious process” the acquisition of equipment and setting up of a 4G network.
Telkom Kenya’s licence expired on Saturday, September 30. The company said it had rolled out 4G to 32 towns but was seeking to expand the network during the trial period.
“The trial extension that we have requested from the regulator is to ensure better deployment, increase of our capacity and coverage, before full commercialisation and rollout of new products and solutions on 4G,” said Telkom Kenya.
Both Jamii Telecom and Telkom Kenya have sought six-month extensions to their licences, the CA says.
On the other hand, Airtel’s license, first issued in March 2016, expired in August and the company was given an extension which will is set expire at the end of the year.
Trial licences are free but once the companies prove they can run the services they are granted commercial licences at a cost of Sh2.5 billion each.
Airtel did not respond to calls for comment on this issue.
Telecom firms in Kenya have long viewed the data market as the next arena for make-or-break competition. The CA’s regulation of 4G services has been dogged with controversy.
In 2015 Airtel Kenya and Telkom Kenya protested the manner in which Safaricom #ticker:SCOM had been awarded frequency for rolling out high speed Internet. Earlier this year the operators accused the CA of misconduct in awarding Jamii telecom a license to operate mobile services.
Jamii Telecom has indicated that it plans to take on the legacy players in the mobile data market with cheaper services.