Bad news for Elon Musk’s Starlink in South Africa

SpaceX’s Starlink satellite Internet service will be subject to regulatory approval before it can be rolled out in South Africa in 2022.

This is based on a new disclaimer added to the Starlink pre-order page, which was amended in the last month.

Previously, the pre-order fulfilment page only stated that “Availability is limited”, a phrase which has since been substituted with “Availability is subject to regulatory approval”.

This change has been added to all the countries where Starlink has not yet gone live.

The image below show the Starlink pre-order page on 10 February, and again on 27 May 2021, for an address in Pofadder.

Starlink Pofadder

A common misconception among Starlink followers in South Africa was that local telecoms bodies would have no control over the space-based service.

This update confirms what the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) previously told MyBroadband – Starlink won’t be able to operate in the country without regulatory approval.

ICASA said SpaceX must obtain an individual electronics communications service (IECS) licence and individual electronics communications network service (IECNS) licence to operate as an ISP in South Africa.

Like other satellite Internet services, Starlink uses frequency spectrum to transmit data and will also have to apply for a Radio Frequency Spectrum licence for this purpose.

In addition, it will have to establish ground stations in South Africa with backhaul connectivity to the Internet, as most of its current satellites cannot transmit data between each other.

SpaceX is in the process of obtaining similar regulatory approval in other countries where it plans to operate, but has only had discussions with ICASA over a rollout in South Africa.

Starlink satellites before deployment.
Starlink satellites before deployment.

There is a major obstacle to Starlink obtaining the licences necessary to bring its services to the country.

Individual telecoms licensees must have a minimum of 30% of its ownership equity held by historically disadvantaged groups, which include black people, women, people with disabilities, and youth.

ICASA told MyBroadband that any applications for new IECS or IECNS licences would not be considered if this criteria was not met.

With SpaceX’s ownership unlikely to constitute 30% black onwership, it appears that Starlink’s rollout in South Africa is in doubt.

However, it’s not yet clear how the company plans to run the service in territories outside of the US.

Some commentators have suggested that it could sell Starlink services through a South African subsidiary which met the BEE requirement.

Starlink app available in South Africa

Despite the notice of regulatory approval being added, the Starlink app recently became available on the Apple App Store and Google Play Store in South Africa.

While it requires an activated Starlink account to use, which is not yet available to South Africans, it could be an indication that SpaceX is pushing ahead with plans to launch the service in South Africa.

The app helps users to:

  • Identify the install location that will ensure the best quality of service
  • Check for obstructions that can interfere with service
  • Setup Starlink hardware
  • Verify the Wi-Fi connection
  • Run speed tests
  • Troubleshoot connectivity issues
  • Contact support

Now read: Starlink passes half a million orders

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Bad news for Elon Musk’s Starlink in South Africa