SPACEX STARLINK: WHY AFRICAN TELECOMMUNICATION GIANTS SHOULD WORRY

By Andrew Omogo

Africa, a beautiful continent still considered as not fully exploited technologically, still has the remotest places on earth without internet connection. This has always hugely affected the transfer of data especially during major challenges like emergencies due to natural disasters and huge undertakings like a free and fair general election.

This however is about to change dramatically as Africa is now becoming the last frontier for competition in provision of internet services. The continent’s communication services have been mostly under the monopolistic management of a few colonially established Telcos with major shareholdings from the European based companies.

As the only Telcos established to provide communication and data transfer services, including internet, companies like Safaricom, Airtel, Glo, MTN, Vodacom, Orascom, Telkom and Econet Wireless have always charged exorbitant prices for internet services as they control the market.  But this is about to change dramatically, definitely better for the common African, but not in favor of the existing Telcos manipulating the African market.

A new player is getting into the African internet market, and may push all African Telecommunication companies to either review their expansion and growth strategic plan, in other words, find new ways to make money a part from data plans, or perish. This new players is SpaceX Starlink.

What is SpaceX Starlink?

Space Exploration Technologies Incorporated or simply put, SpaceX, is a space vehicles launching company that was formed by eccentric billionaire Elon Musk (originally from South Africa, now an accomplished American entrepreneur) in 2008 with the aim of achieving interplanetary transport of humans and cargo, the first major destination, being Mars.

Starlink is one of SpaceX’s major projects launched in October of 2020 to provide broadband service by beaming down internet from satellites launched into orbit. It’s an expansive satellite internet service that is getting much closer to a super-fast internet around the world, already reaching more than 10,000 users globally and started offering $99 pre-orders of the service to more countries and cities worldwide.

SpaceX Starlink Satellites covering the whole earth when the deployment is complete.

According to Business Insider Africa, the aerospace company launched its first batch of Starlink satellites into orbit in May 2019. Now, it has over 1,200 working satellites prepped for the service. The goal is to have up to 42,000 satellites in orbit by mid-2027. The satellites are strapped onto the top of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket and blasted into orbit, usually releasing 60 satellites per launch. The goal is to create a high-speed broadband system generated by satellites which envelope Earth and provide internet to people especially in rural areas without connection.

Starlink Satellites on Falcon 9 Faring
Falcon 9 Launching 60 Starlink Satellites to Space

Superior internet service spreading fast globally

According to the beta test subscribers, A Starlink subscription kit includes a mounting tripod, a WiFi router, and a terminal to connect to the satellites. This service has been a big hit with those living in remote areas of northern US, where it was first rolled out. SpaceX said in an email to Starlink beta test subscribers in October that they should expect speeds between 50 and 150 Megabits per second, with intermittent outages. But some users are hitting much higher speeds.

Starlink Satellite once deployed to the Lower Earth Orbit

A list compiled by Reddit’s Starlink community shows the fastest download speed so far was 209.17 Megabits per second, recorded in New York. One person in Utah recorded in December their speed test showing 215 Megabits per second. Starlink has even reached speeds of 175 Megabits per second in freezing temperatures, high winds and snow. Users have been impressed with the terminal heating up enough to melt any snow or frost on top of it.

The service, as of February 2021, is now available in Northern the United States, Southern Canada, United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, Mexico, More countries could green-light Starlink this year, including Spain, Italy, India, Japan and the Caribbean, according to a report from Teslarati.

Starlink UFO like Satellite dish

Various functions

Starlink is meant to be used in both urban areas, on mobile devices, in remote rural populations, in moving vehicles, ships, planes, trucks and RV’s. Starlink also plans to incorporate the use of antennas mounted on vehicles, vessels, and aircraft, as revealed by the details filled by the Federal Communication Commission at International Telecommunication Union. This constellation covering around the world means anyone will now be able to cheaply access internet so long as they have a 3G device. It also means tracking anyone would be easy, raising concerns about freedom from government monitoring of citizens.

Price comparisons

For now Starlink is not cheap. Mostly because it is at beta testing stage and they have to prove that the network works in remote areas without interference. A subscription to the beta is currently $99 a month and costs a further $499 for the Starlink kit. Bringing the total to $598. But this price is expected to reduce. In Kenyan scenario, a single set up of Starlink can serve a whole building of more 60 Households without much interference.

The aim of Starlink is global coverage. As soon as Starlink hits the African space and begins to offer services here, it will only take 60,000 Kenya shillings to buy the Starlink kit and set it up on a building of more than 100 people. A single kit can process data at the highest rate of 215 Megabits per Second for 30 days uninterrupted. Here is a sample of potential Starlink Data Plan for the African Market.

This is 774 Gigabits per hour or 18.576 Terabits per day. This brings us to 557.28 Terabits per month for only 10,000 Kenya shillings. This is a grand business opportunity for any Land Lord in Sub Saharan Africa. This network can be shared from a single streaming to over 20 WiFi Devices and can still give out a strong network of 10.25 Megabits per second. For a shared price of 2,500 Kenya shillings a month, one can get 139.32 Terabits per month or 53.75 Megabits per second.

Here is SpaceX Starlink current data plan for beta test. The price is expected to reduce.

Here is the Starlink monthly data plan compared to other Internet Service Providers within the African Continent (rounded figures for easy comparison).

This clearly shows how the African Telecommunication giants have been stingy with their data plans and will literally be obliterated by the arrival of Starlink services on the continent. The end of monopoly and much expense on data.

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