SpaceX and its CEO Elon Musk have announced that Mozambique and Nigeria are the first two African countries to grant regulatory approval to its Starlink satellite Internet service.
According to Starlink’s coverage map, the service will go live in Nigeria in the third quarter of 2022, while Mozambique will get coverage in the fourth quarter.
The rest of the continent’s countries, including South Africa, still show “Starting in 2023” as their estimated live dates for the service.
South Africans can currently pre-order their Starlink equipment by entering their address and paying a $99 (R1,545) deposit fee on the Starlink website.
Starlink anticipates it will be able to offer speeds of between 150-500Mbps once it has a sufficient number of satellites in orbit.
The current monthly subscription fee is $110 (R1,716) per month.
The Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (Icasa) confirmed to MyBroadband that it had started initial discussions with SpaceX regarding regulatory approval in South Africa about 15 months ago.
Subsequent queries to Icasa regarding progress on these talks have gone unanswered.
Starlink faces several potential obstacles to its rollout in South Africa, one being Icasa itself.
New black empowerment regulations announced for South Africa’s telecoms providers have created uncertainty over whether the service would be able to launch locally.
SpaceX will require a licence from the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (Icasa) to become an Internet service provider (ISP) in the country.
It will also need a licence to use radio frequency spectrum to beam signals from its satellites to customer terminals on the ground in South Africa.
Icasa published regulations in April 2021 that seek to force ISPs to have 30% black ownership.
That is in addition to an existing requirement that 30% of an ISP’s ownership equity should be held by historically disadvantaged groups (HDG), including black people, women, people with disabilities, and youth.
SpaceX is a private company, and its exact ownership makeup is unknown. The Elon Musk Trust holds 47.4% equity in SpaceX, while employees own some portion of the company.
While Icasa has suspended its new regulations until a future commencement date that is yet to be announced, the regulator told MyBroadband it would not issue new licences to any ISPs that don’t meet the black ownership requirement.
The Square Kilometre Array Organisation (SKAO) has also raised concerns over how the Starlink fleet could interfere with the radio telescopes it uses to survey the night sky.
The satellites use a section of the same spectrum the SKA operates on, which means they could periodically blind the installation and prevent it from making important discoveries about our universe.
However, a recent update to the Starlink map shows a large “dead zone” over South Africa centred on the SKA’s location.
Similar circular zones have been drawn over radio telescopes elsewhere in the world, including the SKA location in Australia, the Atacama Large Millimetre Array Science Preserve in the north of Chile, and the Green Bank Telescope in the US.