The number of people using Starlink in South Africa has surpassed those with an ADSL connection — despite the SpaceX-operated satellite broadband service not being officially available locally.
Starlink is yet to launch in South Africa officially, but figures from two major importers of its equipment show it has amassed well over 12,000 sign-ups in the country.
This is because the service can already be accessed locally using a global or regional roaming subscription.
To use Starlink, you must first import a dish antenna and router kit from a country where it is already supported. Your account must also be registered to an address in one of these countries.
Several Internet service providers (ISPs) have taken it upon themselves to handle the importing and registration process on customers’ behalf.
Among the major players currently offering this service are StarSat Africa and IcasaSePush.
These two companies recently reduced the prices of their services substantially, as shown in the table below.
|Starlink roaming package prices in South Africa
|Starlink dish and router price
|Monthly fee for roaming subscription
|R3,999 (bring your own kit)
R2,999 (bundled with IcasaSePush kit)
Mozambique-based StarSat Africa, not to be confused with the Starsat satellite TV service, told MyBroadband it had imported over 12,000 units for South African customers by mid-November 2023.
While it had not provided its latest numbers by the time of publication, IcasaSePush had already racked up 400 Starlink imports by mid-October 2023.
That means that Starlink already has at least 12,400 customers in South Africa, all of whom use its roaming feature.
Meanwhile, Telkom’s latest interim results for the six months ended September 2023 revealed that its DSL subscriber base had shrunk to just 12,211 customers, an astounding 84% drop from the 74,477 it had a year ago.
The import numbers for Starlink don’t include units brought into the country by other providers that don’t market as extensively.
It also does not tally the units imported by private individuals themselves.
Unlike ADSL, Starlink is a much newer and growing technology primarily aimed more at the underserved rural market.
Nevertheless, the numbers show real demand for the service in South Africa, contrary to what many Starlink sceptics have complained about.
The fact that the momentum has carried through from earlier in the year also suggests that Starlink users are satisfied with the service in South Africa.
StarSat Africa’s big numbers can be partially attributed to inheriting over 3,000 customers from small Northern Cape-based ISP IT Lec in August 2023.
That came after IT Lec was served with a cease-and-desist instruction from the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (Icasa).
The legal letter demanded that IT Lec “stop and refrain [from] acquiring, distributing and facilitating sale of any Starlink products in South Africa, that will in any form provide satellite access to the Starlink services”.
The threat came after IT Lec had been offering a Starlink import and management service from early 2023.
Icasa contends that the Electronic Communications Act (ECA) determines Starlink can only be sold in South Africa if SpaceX acquires the necessary telecoms licences.
These include an electronic communications services (ECS) licence to sell directly to customers in South Africa.
SpaceX cannot acquire such a licence without having 30% of its equity held by previously disadvantaged groups or partnering with a company that complies.
Rather than leave customers in the dark, IT Lec migrated them to StarSat Africa, which operates out of Mozambique, where Starlink is already available.
IcasaSePush is a newer player, but has already received rave reviews from numerous customers on South African Starlink community forums.
Its name is a reference to irreverent load-shedding app EskomSePush (ESP).
ESP’s name is a play on push notifications and an Afrikaans swear word often used to describe frustration with the regular power cuts that sounds like “push”.
IcasaSePush has not minced words regarding its view on Icasa’s attempts to block Starlink in South Africa.
“We absolutely refuse to buy into the idea that any government, especially those with policies stuck in the ‘dark ages,’ can hold back an entire population or individual from joining the global march forward.”
“This sentiment isn’t limited to just the current South African government — we’re talking about any other equally ‘backward’ government out there.”
IcasaSePush has claimed it operates from outside South Africa, likely to avoid the regulatory scrutiny IT Lec endured.
The provider recently also started calling Starlink products “Sparkling” products on its website.
The company said the renaming was because “diligent copyright lawyers” had pointed out that it could not call a “spade a spade”.
“We are now the proud proprietors of Sparkling* dishes and accessories,” the ISP said.
It is unclear whether this move was due to action from Icasa or if IcasaSePush wanted to avoid running into trouble with Starlink, which does not officially support reselling its kits and services.