Elon Musk’s Starlink now available in South Africa — but there is a catch

SpaceX’s Starlink satellite Internet service can be used in South Africa, provided you can import its customer premises kit.

MyBroadband has learnt of two South Africans who managed to use Starlink’s network locally after subscribing to its recently-launched “Roam” service.

One of them was Johannesburg resident James Coetzee, co-founder of specialist Wi-Fi connectivity provider QuickConnectWireless.

The company has been investigating the potential use of Starlink in South Africa’s rural areas.

While it is possible to put down a deposit for a Starlink kit pre-order using an address in South Africa, it will not be shipped until the service officially rolls out locally.

Fortunately for Coetzee, his company also operates an office in the UK, where Starlink has already launched.

After Starlink launched its portable service for recreational vehicles, which allows for use while on the go and outside of the user’s main country, Coetzee brought the kit to South Africa to see if it would work here.

However, he discovered that Starlink for RVs was continent-bound, and while he could connect to the Starlink network, it would not assign an IP address required for using the Internet.

After Starlink rolled out global roaming this week, he could connect to the Internet by paying the $200 (R3,663) Roam subscription fee.

The fee for fixed residential packages varies from one country to the next but is substantially cheaper than the roaming product. For example, in the US, it is priced at $110 (R2,021, excl. VAT).

Starlink antenna on a roof

Coetzee found that the service performed relatively well during testing at his house and a public park in Johannesburg.

It could deliver speeds over 200Mbps for downloads and around 6–7Mbps for uploads.

While Starlink’s fixed service comes with certain performance guarantees, the Roam option is intended as a temporary solution and works on a best-effort basis.

Network resources are always de-prioritised for Roam users compared to other Starlink services, resulting in degraded service and slower speeds in congested areas and during peak hours,” Starlink said.

“Stated speeds and uninterrupted use of the service are not guaranteed.”

The latency that Coetzee measured initially ranged between 100ms and 200ms, but for one test, it was as low as 67ms.

All these results are better than the 600ms+ of geostationary satellite Internet services available in South Africa but worse than Starlink’s claimed 20-40ms.

Below is a screenshot from one of the speed tests that Coetzee performed.

Starlink speed test performed in South Africa

A possible reason for the higher-than-usual latency is that there is no Starlink ground station in South Africa.

Although much of Starlink’s satellite fleet can relay data between each other with laser links, they still need to connect to ground-based Starlink Gateways at some point to move data from and to the Internet.

Coetzee said that the nearest ground station seemed to be in Nigeria, where Starlink officially launched at the end of January 2023, becoming the first African country to support the service.

According to WonderNetwork, the average ping between Johannesburg and Lagos, when routing through submarine fibre cables, was around 168ms.

The second user who managed to get the service working was a MyBroadband Forum member.

They had signed up for the Starlink using an address in Rwanda, another African country which already has official Starlink coverage.

While it’s unclear how they got that kit into the country, they were also able to get it connected after activating the regional roaming service — also called portability — on their plan towards the end of February 2023.

When paying Rwandan Franc, the standard monthly Starlink price converted to about R831, while enabling portability pushed the price up to roughly R1,011.

The highest download speed recorded across their shared tests was 148.07Mbps, while the lowest was 6.26Mbps.

Questions about Starlink regulatory approval in South Africa

The fact that Starlink works in South Africa — even if only on its more expensive roaming plan — is surprising.

While several third-party satellite tracking maps show multiple Starlink satellites covering the country at any point during the day, the company has said roaming availability would be subject to regulatory approvals.

“It can be ordered in any country where Starlink is available on the Starlink Availability Map,” it explains in an FAQ on its website.

On that map, South Africa’s Starlink availability still says, “Service date is unknown at this time”.

Icasa previously told MyBroadband SpaceX would require various licences to operate legally in South Africa — but cast doubts about whether it would be able to get all of these if it did not meet a 30% black ownership requirement for Internet service providers (ISPs).

South Africa’s estimated availability date for Starlink has been pushed back repeatedly, initially going from 2022 to 2023 before being updated to “unknown”. Icasa and SpaceX have remained silent on whether this was due to regulatory delays.

Another issue the service’s availability raises is whether the Starlink kit has received type approval in South Africa.

In the case of electronic communications equipment, type approval ensures that a product meets the technical requirements to operate within an approved stipulated frequency without causing interference.

A list of approved RF equipment on Icasa’s website showed that an item called “Starlink Satellite Earth Station Gateway” had been approved in 2021.

However, we could not find any lists of RF equipment that was approved in 2020 or 2022, so it is unclear whether the Starlink Kit has also been cleared.

MyBroadband asked Icasa whether Starlink was licenced to operate its service in the country and whether its kit was type approved, but did not immediately receive feedback to our queries.


Now read: Amazon unveils Project Kuiper satellite Internet antennas — with up to 1Gbps speeds

Latest news

Partner Content

Show comments

Recommended

Share this article
Elon Musk’s Starlink now available in South Africa — but there is a catch