Starlink tested in the Kalahari — 167Mbps in the middle of the desert

SpaceX’s Starlink satellite Internet service can provide fibre-like speeds and performance in areas as desolate as the Kalahari desert.

That is according to testing conducted by wireless Internet service provider Quick Connect Wireless.

The company recently told MyBroadband about their experience using a Starlink Internet connection on a trip to the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park.

The cross-border game reserve lies in the southern part of the Kalahari, with a section in South Africa and Botswana.

Quick Connect continuously tested their connection over four days, including at night.

They set the kit up and put it through its paces at Tweerivieren, Nossob, and Kalahari Tent camps.

Starlink kit deployed at Nossob Camp in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park. Photograph: Quick Connect Wireless

It is important to note that there is barely any cellular signal available in Kgalagadi, never mind fast fixed connectivity.

Only the first of those camps has any kind of mobile connectivity, with no other way to access the Internet throughout the park besides using a satellite service.

They described Starlink’s performance in these locations as “super impressive”.

“Basically, it was a copy-paste service as what was received in Joburg,” Quick Connect Wireless said.

“We had similar levels of service at each of the camps as well as various picnic sites along the way.”

The company provided MyBroadband with a screenshot showing a test recording a download speed of 167Mbps, and an upload rate of 11.8Mbps.

The connection’s ping was relatively high at 182ms, but that made sense considering there are no Starlink ground stations currently operating in or near South Africa.

The Starlink app dashboard also showed that the connection was relatively stable, with one 18-minute session showing just 6 seconds of no network availability.

Screenshot showing speed test of Starlink in Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park.

While Starlink has not officially been rolled out to South Africa and still has an “unknown” estimated availability date for the country, there were two confirmed ways to get the service to work locally.

Firstly, the method that still works is having the Starlink kit shipped to and registered with an address in a country on another continent where Starlink is already live.

To get the service to work in South Africa, you must bring the kit to the country and activate global roaming.

That is what Quick Connect Wireless has done, with their Starlink kit coming from their office in the UK.

Another option that was previously available was to ship the kit to one of the two African countries that already supported it — Nigeria or Rwanda — and activate portability mode.

The latter also allowed for roaming in countries where the service is not yet officially available but limited the user to the same continent as their registered service address.

That was the approach taken by one of MyBroadband’s forum members, who works for another ISP focused on connectivity in the rural Northern Cape.

Unfortunately, the ability to sign up to portability mode has been removed for new customers.

While customers who had previously activated this service will still be able to use it, others will have to opt for the more expensive global roaming option.

However, Starlink’s terms of service explain that roaming is intended for travel use and that cannot be employed for more than two months at a time.

After that period, the service needs to be used back at its home address, or the address needs to be changed to the destination where the kit is most frequently being used.

Since Starlink is not officially available in South Africa, using a local address could be problematic.

Starlink kit deployed at Nossob Camp in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park. Photograph: Quick Connect Wireless

There is still very little clarity on whether Starlink’s local operation is entirely lawful.

According to the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (Icasa), SpaceX requires several electronic communications licences to operate in the country.

However, Icasa has repeatedly failed to respond to queries from MyBroadband on the progress of SpaceX’s applications for these licences, if indeed it had applied for them.

It has also not provided feedback regarding the legality of the roaming service working in South Africa.

Starlink does not respond to media queries, leaving prospective customers in South Africa to speculate about what is going on with the service’s local launch.


Now read: New rules for data speeds in South Africa

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Starlink tested in the Kalahari — 167Mbps in the middle of the desert