At least 20 African countries have either rolled out or are set to get Starlink before South Africa, according to the service’s official coverage map.
Starlink is a satellite broadband service run by Elon Musk’s private space company SpaceX.
It is supported by a network of over 3,000 low-earth orbit satellites which SpaceX has been launching in batches since 2019.
Due to Starlink satellites being located much nearer to Earth’s surface than conventional geostationary Internet-beaming satellites, Starlink provides much higher speeds and lower latency than the average satellite service.
The standard rectangular satellite dish for residential usage is rated for download speeds from 20-100Mbps, with latency between 25-50ms.
It could prove particularly useful in rural areas with limited or no mobile connectivity or fixed broadband access. Such communities are plentiful in South Africa.
With SpaceX founder Elon Musk born in the country, some expected he might have some predisposition to bring the service to the country as soon as possible. This does not appear to be the case.
The Starlink world coverage map provides an overview of locations where the service is available and when it will be available in areas where it is not yet offered.
The first two African countries confirmed to be getting Starlink are Mozambique and Nigeria, with rollouts set down for the fourth quarter of 2022.
Seven other countries on the continent — Angola, Eswatini, Gabon, Kenya, Malawi, Rwanda, and Tanzania — are slated for rollout in the first quarter of 2023.
Eleven more African countries also have their estimated availability dates as sometime in 2023.
Including the officially-unrecognised state of Somaliland, 12 countries on the continent will get the service next year.
South Africa becomes destination “unknown”
South Africa is among the remaining countries that had their service availability dates set to “unknown” at the time of publication.
The service dates are informed by whether Starlink has reached sufficient satellite capacity to service particular areas and if it has received approval from the relevant local regulator to proceed with a rollout.
With the Starlink network expected to have reached global coverage before the end of 2022, regulation appears to be the primary issue preventing its availability in countries with an “unknown” status.
When SpaceX initially opened Starlink pre-orders to most countries in February 2021, its estimated availability in South Africa was 2022.
Soon after that, South Africa’s broadcasting and telecoms regulator — the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (Icasa) — told MyBroadband that it had early discussions with SpaceX regarding its plans to roll out in the country.
Icasa told MyBroadband that SpaceX would require an electronics communications services (ECS) licence and an electronic communications networks service (ECNS) licence to provide Starlink in South Africa.
It also had to get a radio frequency spectrum licence to carry traffic over the radio waves between its satellites and customers’ terminals.
In November 2021, SpaceX pushed back the estimated availability date in South Africa to 2023 due to the chip shortage.
That lasted until at least August 2022, before SpaceX changed South Africa’s rollout date to its current “unknown” status.
Icasa and SpaceX have repeatedly failed to respond to MyBroadband’s queries on any progress with the discussions since that time.
That came after we attempted to find out from Icasa whether the service’s rollout would be impacted by a highly-controversial requirement that ISPs must be 30% black-owned to get licences to operate in South Africa.
Icasa told MyBroadband that it would not consider any new applications for licences from companies that did not comply with this rule.
SpaceX is a private company whose exact ownership makeup is unknown, making it difficult to determine whether it would meet such a threshold.
According to the latest available data, the Elon Musk Trust holds 47.7% equity and 78.3% voting control in the company.
The remaining shareholding is split between SpaceX employees, Google, five Fidelity Investments funds, and private investors like Draper Fisher Jurvetson, Founders Fund, Valor Equity Partners, and Capricorn.
MyBroadband asked Icasa and SpaceX for an update on Starlink’s rollout in South Africa, but they did not provide feedback by the time of publication.
The table below shows the African countries where Starlink has either launched or has a set launch date, as of December 2022.
|African countries confirmed to get Starlink
|Estimated availability date
|Democratic Republic of Congo
|Eswatini (formerly Swaziland)