Telesom’s officials when they launched Somaliland’s first ever 5G connectivity on January 1, 2024 in the city of Hargeisa. In attendance are Somaliland’s Vice President Abdirahman Abdillahi Saylici, ICT minister Dr Ahmed Yousuf Idiris, and minister for Investment and Industrial Development Abdirazak Ibrahim Mohamed.
By Daniel Ogetta
Somaliland, a self-declared independent nation-state located in the North-West region of Somalia has long been known for its resilience in the face of adversity. Now the small nation is taking a bold step towards the future with the recent launch of its first 5G network. This leapfrog over 4G, pioneered by the telecommunications company Telesom, promises to unlock a world of possibilities for the country’s burgeoning economy and digitally-hungry population.
On January 1, Telesom, a telecommunications provider, which has 90 percent market share in Somaliland, launched the first-ever 5G mobile service and Fixed Wireless Access (FWA) service in the country.
“Telesom’s 5G mobile service represents a quantum leap in wireless technology, offering unparalleled speed, reliability, and connectivity,” the company said in a statement. “This next-generation service is set to revolutionise the way people communicate, work, and experience the digital world.”
Unlike other countries that first run pilots of the technology before the official launch, Telesom launched what it describes as a “nationwide rollout” in 13 urbanised cities and towns. These include the capital city Hargeisa and the towns of Burco, Borama, Berbera, Erigavo, Gabiley, Sheekh and Wajaale among others. Telesom’s 5G internet has a download speed of 1016 Mbs per second.
Telesom Chairman Abdikarim Eid told Nation.Africa the 5G deployment marks a watershed moment for Somaliland, with subscribers now able to access 5G data bundles on Telesom’s network with all compatible 5G phones.
36 African countries
“We are launching this ahead of 36 African countries, making us among the forerunners in technological innovation on the continent,” Eid said. “We want to ensure our customers benefit from near-instantaneous download speeds that enable businesses to operate seamlessly, students to access educational resources like never before, and healthcare professionals to diagnose and treat patients remotely.”
This unprecedented connectivity, Eid said, has the potential to revolutionise other sectors like finance, transport and agriculture, fostering innovation and driving economic growth.
But the impact of 5G extends beyond mere speed. Its low latency, or the time it takes for data to travel, opens doors for real-time applications like smart farming, remote surgery, and immersive virtual reality experiences.
However, challenges remain. Infrastructure rollout is in its early stages, currently limited to major cities. While affordability will also be a crucial factor for mass 5G mobile adoption, Somalia already ranks in the top five African countries with the most affordable mobile internet. The Worldwide Mobile Data Pricing 2023 index by UK-based internet affordability analysis firm Cable ranked Somalia fourth in Africa.
At $0.50 per GB on average, Somalia has the cheapest mobile internet in East Africa, with the cheapest mobile connectivity provider in Somalia charging $0.19 per GB. However, there will still be affordability obstacles in relation to 5G-enabled handsets. This may be where Somaliland’s 5G take-off is expected to incur some hiccups.
Combined, Somaliland and Somalia have one of the largest coastlines in Africa, where many undersea internet cables for fiber networks pass. And while both countries have rolled out fiber internet connections for business and residence, the majority of the infrastructure is limited to highly urbanised areas. “With the rollout of Telesom’s FWA using our 5G network, we will be able to bring high-speed internet to areas outside the fiber network in all the cities where our network is available,” Eid added.
Robust cybersecurity systems
Somaliland will need to lay robust cybersecurity systems and adapt to existing legal frameworks to the demands of this new technology for a smooth transition. Telesom, on its part, will need to secure its new network since the decentralised nature of 5G networks, with more data being processed at the edge, opens up new points of vulnerability.
However, the launch of 5G in Somaliland represents a powerful symbol of the country’s unwavering spirit amidst existential challenges. The nation’s 5G leap depicts the tenacity of its people and their determination to embrace the opportunities offered by the digital age. With careful planning, strategic partnerships, and a focus on inclusivity, 5G has the potential to be a game-changer for Somaliland, propelling it towards a brighter, more connected future like its neighbour Kenya.
As the network expands and applications evolve, the next few years will be crucial in shaping how this technology can best serve the needs of the nation. But one thing is clear: Somaliland is no longer on the sidelines of the digital revolution. It’s actively charting its own course, one powered by the potential of 5G thanks to Telesom, and the world is watching with anticipation.