Satellite operator Eutelsat and its country partners will soon launch its OneWeb low-earth orbit (LEO) broadband service in South Africa.
The service aims to provide high-speed, low-latency Internet access in regions where traditional connectivity might be challenging or previously non-existent.
South Africa will be the first to offer the service on the continent through the partnerships. The companies aim to expand the service to over 35 countries in Africa.
OneWeb’s LEO services could appeal to business sectors operating in remote parts of the country, such as retail healthcare, government, mining, agriculture, tourism, and hospitality.
SpaceX’s Starlink product also uses LEO satellites. However, it is offered to individual and business customers, while OneWeb is currently sold exclusively to enterprises, businesses, and governments.
One significant advantage of LEO services compared to older satellite Internet services that use geostationary (GEO) satellites is reduced latency — making them more appropriate for applications like video and voice calls.
OneWeb’s satellites operate at 1,200km above the Earth’s surface, while Starlink’s orbit at 550km. Geostationary satellites operate at a 35,000km altitude.
Older satellite services have latencies over 600ms, making applications like videoconferencing and online gaming challenging.
OneWeb’s constellation can support sub-100ms latencies, while Starlink advertises between 20–40ms for areas near its ground stations. Both of these are suited for latency-sensitive applications.
However, in countries where Starlink is not officially available or does not have ground stations, communication relies on inter-satellite links, which increases latency.
South Africans using the Starlink roaming service are typically getting latencies between 100–300ms.
At this point in time, OneWeb will likely have better latency than Starlink in South Africa, because SpaceX’s service is not officially approved locally.
Therefore, it cannot roll out its ground stations, whereas Eutelsat has already established ground station connectivity for OneWeb in South Africa and two other African countries.
Eutelsat OneWeb has installed satellite network portals in Angola, South Africa, and Mauritius.