Despite South Africa’s telecommunications regulator deeming their use “illegal”, well over 14,000 of SpaceX’s Starlink kits have been imported into the country in about a year.
MyBroadband spoke to two of the most well-known companies that have made a business of importing and activating Starlink for South Africans — IcasaSePush and Starsat Africa.
Starlink is not yet officially approved in South Africa but works through a global or regional roaming subscription.
The kit first needs to be registered in a country where the service is officially available, which means direct shipping is not an option.
Both IcasaSePush and Starsat Africa operate out of Mozambique to avoid running into legal disputes with the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (Icasa), which maintains that using or providing Starlink in the country is illegal.
Icasa warned that the provision of broadcasting and electronic communications services without the necessary service and radio frequency spectrum licences was a direct contravention of the Electronic Communications Act (ECA).
IcasaSePush told MyBroadband it has sold 1,463 kits to South Africans since launching in September 2023, which works out to more than 10 per day, or about 300 a month.
The company said it was seeing a definite increase in demand as more people became aware of the product and used it.
“We are getting around 200 queries per day about Starlink, and there is a steady growth in orders,” IcasaSePush stated.
“We foresee that we will be selling over 600 kits per month by the end of January 2024.”
“Businesses especially have started using it for business continuity and disaster recovery, primarily because it is immune to load-shedding,”
Unlike mobile networks that rely on ground-based towers susceptible to load-shedding, Starlink uses space-based satellites that are powered by solar.
IcasaSePush also said its customers were diverse, representing the full spectrum of the socio-economic market.
“They stretch from large multi-national businesses like mines to small local tour operators and pre-primary schools,” the company said.
“One of the biggest highlights of our day is when people call in and tell us how Starlink has enhanced their lives.”
StarSat Africa is another third-party provider of Starlink kits in South Africa.
It had well over 12,000 customers signed up for the service as of November 2023, benefitting from roughly 3,000–4,000 customers migrated from Northern Cape-based IT Lec earlier in the year.
That came after the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa issued the company with a cease and desist letter to stop it from selling Starlink kits or providing the Internet service, which it had been doing since early 2023.
The 12,000 or so customers do not include the roughly 606 orders Starsat Africa received from South African customers during a Black Friday promotion.
Starsat Africa also received about 200 Black Friday orders from customers in other Sub-Saharan African countries where Starlink has not yet launched.
The number of people who have imported and activated their own Starlink kits is unknown.
Icasa legal threats not bothering customers
Despite Icasa’s threats over the illegality of the service and its equipment in South Africa, Starsat said its customers were not taking down their dishes or cancelling their packages.
The company disputes that the kit is not type-approved in South Africa, as Icasa implies in its warning over the “illegal” use of Starlink in South Africa.
The regulator said that the ECA stipulated no person may possess, use, supply, sell, offer for sale, lease or hire any type of electronic communications equipment or electronic communication facility, including radio apparatus, unless it has been type-approved.
However, it steered clear of explicitly stating that the Starlink kit is not approved. Instead, it refers to a table with a list of type-approved Starlink equipment.
Aside from three gateway stations — used to connect Starlink satellites with backhaul connectivity to the Internet — it includes an item labelled “Starlink router” with the code “UTR-211” but makes no mention of the dish.
In the US, radio communications equipment like the Starlink kit is approved by the Federal Communication Commission (FCC).
The official label with the FCC’s approval sticker on the Starlink box lists the “UTA-211” code for the Starlink router and the “UTA-212” identifier for the dish.
However, only one FCC ID appears on the sticker — “2AWHPR211”.
Starsat said that Mozambique and Namibia’s communications authorities regarded the FCC’s single approval number as sufficient for importing into their countries.
We could not find approval numbers for the UTA-212 dish online or in an independently operated database of FCC-approved SpaceX equipment.
Starsat anticipates there may be issues once Starlink starts shipping its 3rd-generation Starlink kits.
These routers carry a different product number, “UTR-231”, and FCC approval number 2AWHPR231 and have not been type-approved in South Africa yet.
This might make it challenging to get the new kits through customs.
MyBroadband contacted the company that handled the Starlink router’s type-approval in South Africa for further clarity on whether it included both the dish and router, but we had not received feedback on our queries by the time of publication.