Starlink rolling out global roaming service — with more bad news for South Africa

Starlink has started offering a “Global Roaming Service” to customers in countries where its satellite broadband connectivity has received regulatory approval but is not yet available.

Users on a Reddit forum posted about an email inviting customers with pre-orders in some locations where Starlink is not yet live to try out the service.

Starlink said that the roaming would work “from almost anywhere on land in the world”.

While the company previously launched a roaming add-on and dedicated roaming service for RVs, these are limited to the user’s home continent.

The Global Roaming Service uses inter-satellite links, often referred to as “space lasers”, that allow for relaying connectivity to and from locations without ground stations.

Starlink’s earliest satellites did not feature this capability, which meant it first had to build ground stations to offer coverage.

However, Starlink said that because it was a new technology, customers could expect its “typical high-speed, low-latency” service to be intermixed with “brief” periods of poor or no connectivity.

The Starlink Global Roaming Service comes with a monthly price tag of $200 (R3,611, excl. VAT), regardless of country, while customers also have to pay $599 (R10,815) for the equipment.

In addition, those outside the US will be responsible for paying any applicable taxes or customs duties on the hardware.

The standard price for a residential Starlink service in the US is $110 (R1,986), but the company adjusts this for other territories.

In Nigeria, the first African country to get Starlink connectivity, the service costs $43 (R776).

Customers who are not fully satisfied with the roaming service can get a full refund for their hardware if they cancel within 30 days of activation.

Bad news for South Africa

At the time of writing, it was unclear whether the roaming service would be available in South Africa, but it appears unlikely.

Although Starlink pre-orders have been open in South Africa since 2021, the email inviting customers to try the Global Roaming Service specifically said availability would depend on regulatory approval.

Starlink said its online map provided a list of the authorised territories.

Many countries currently have estimated availability dates for Starlink on this map, including around 20 African countries.

But South Africa’s availability status has been “unknown” for several months.

The local regulatory clearance process seems to have progressed even less than in countries like India and Pakistan, where the status has at least been updated to “Pending Regulatory Approval”.

The countries where the roaming service will be available are likely those where Starlink has received regulatory clearance, but a launch has not been possible due to technical considerations — like the availability of ground stations.

Starlink availability map as of 20 February 2023

Based on South Africa’s status, it appears the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (Icasa) has not granted Starlink’s operating company SpaceX the necessary regulatory approvals to run its service locally.

Icasa previously told MyBroadband it had early discussions with SpaceX about a Starlink rollout and confirmed the company would require various network licences to operate in South Africa.

In subsequent feedback, it said that SpaceX must comply with new Black Economic Empowerment regulations for Internet service providers requiring 30% (South African) black ownership to offer Starlink locally.

SpaceX is a private company that does not have to declare its ownership publicly, but it seems unlikely to meet this criterion without going through a local partner.

According to a recent Federal Communications Commission filing, an Elon Musk trust owned roughly 42% of the company and held 78% of voting rights.

The remaining shareholders include Google, Fidelity Investments, Sequoia Capital, Andreessen Horowitz, Vika Ventures, and Gigafund.


Now read: Amazon wins approval to launch over 3,000 satellites to rival Starlink

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Starlink rolling out global roaming service — with more bad news for South Africa