MyBroadband tested SpaceX’s uncapped satellite broadband service Starlink in the Kruger National Park over the December holidays and found it delivered excellent speeds.
The Kruger is South Africa’s biggest national park and one of the most well-known in the world. It is a favourite destination for many local and international tourists.
Those familiar with online groups and forums that host Kruger visitors will find one of the commonly asked questions is how good the cellular reception is in the park.
While some wish to “switch off” from the outside world when on a bush breakaway, many need reliable Internet connectivity to check in with their offices, even when vacationing.
Some even have the luxury of working remotely from anywhere and would prefer to do so in a calm environment away from the city — like the Kruger.
Unfortunately for these individuals, the park has very poor to no Internet connectivity, depending on where you travel.
The reason for this is simple — the park covers a massive 19,485 km² — of which about 18.5% is tourism-orientated and 81.5% conservation-oriented.
The portions of the park dedicated to roads, development, and accommodation are estimated to be between 3% and 4%.
Fixed broadband connectivity like fibre is not financially or logistically sensible, which leaves cellular as the most affordable and mobile way to access the Internet in the park.
However, even when available in the larger camps, cell reception is often limited to just one of the two big networks — Vodacom or MTN.
Sometimes, connectivity is only available near the camp’s reception, restaurant, and shop. In general accommodation, it can be agonisingly slow.
Cellular customers in Kruger have to communicate with towers that are much further away than in a city or town because dotting the park with numerous masts would make for a sore sight for many nature lovers and tourists.
Although some of the smaller camps could use older satellite Internet, this can be costly and limited in speed and capacity.
Starlink can address this problem because it uses a vast network of space-based “towers” — its fleet of over 5,000 low-earth orbit satellites — to beam connectivity.
Starlink terminals are also relatively portable, allowing visitors to bring their own if they need the Internet.
We tested a kit in two locations in the southern Kruger — Pretoriuskop Rest Camp and the Nkumbe lookout point.
IT Lec provided the kit before it handed over its customers to StarSat Africa last year.
Before these tests, we also managed to get the service online at the Mathekanyane (formerly Granokop) lookout point.
However, our account was paused at this stage, so we could not perform speed tests.
For increased mobility, we used a simple 500Wh portable power station, although we also had the option of an electric outlet for our tests in Pretoriuskop.
The highest download speed we achieved throughout our testing was 177Mbps, the highest upload speed was 35Mbps, and the best latency was 144ms.
The lowest download speed in all our tests was 15Mbps, while the lowest upload speed was 5Mbps. The worst latency was 252ms.
On average, speeds were better in the camp than at the lookout point. This was likely due to the direction the antenna had to face at the lookout point being slightly obstructed by a thatched roof, while we mainly had open skies in the camp.
However, in all our tests, we found the speeds would be more than adequate for online browsing, collaborative web app use, video conferencing, video streaming, and even reasonably fast file uploading.
Below are the results of the last five speed tests we performed at Nkumbe and Pretoriuskop, using results from the Starlink mobile app’s built-in speed test tool. The numbers in bold are the averages for each testing location.
|Starlink tests in Kruger National Park
|Pretoriuskop Rest Camp
|Nkumbe Lookout Point