Starlink speeds and prices wiping the floor with South Africa’s legal satellite Internet services

Starlink outperforms licensed satellite broadband services in South Africa and is significantly cheaper, despite lacking official local support or ground stations.

Numerous Starlink roaming users in South Africa were upset when the company notified them it would cut off services in unofficially-supported African countries on 30 April 2024.

This was because many had no or very poor Internet service before getting a Starlink kit into the country.

Even the luckier users who previously had fixed-LTE access in rural areas often saw their connections going offline during load-shedding.

With fewer customers and a higher risk of battery theft and vandalism than in suburban locations, mobile networks have little financial incentive to equip the sites that serve these customers with sufficient backup power.

Those who could afford traditional satellite connections had to pay R1,000 or more for speeds of 10Mbps.

So desperate was their hunger for better connectivity on Starlink that thousands put down over R15,000 upfront for the equipment and defied the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa’s (Icasa’s) warning that using Starlink in South Africa was illegal because it was not yet licenced.

There were over 4,000 Starlink roaming users in South Africa by the end of 2023, including self-imported kits and those brought in by third parties like IcasaSePush.

Sources who prefer to remain anonymous due to the “illegal” status of Starlink have told MyBroadband these include major car manufacturers with dealerships in smaller towns, dozens of outlets of one of South Africa’s most popular fast food chains, and even some rural state-run clinics and schools.

What speed tests reveal

An analysis of MyBroadband speed tests performed on the web since the kits first started getting imported into some perspective on why the service is proving so popular.

When it comes to Starlink speed tests performed on MyBroadband’s platforms, it is important to note that these might have slower speeds than users actually experience, as our test traffic goes to South African data centres.

Using the Starlink app’s built-in speed tests, we’ve often seen download speeds exceeding 100Mbps and upload speeds of around 20Mbps on a kit we tested ourselves.

But even on MyBroadband’s speed tests, Starlink recorded a solid average download speed of 31.44Mbps and upload speeds of 2.76Mbps.

That was based on 4,077 speed tests conducted by 661 unique users in South Africa since January 2024.

In addition, without any local ground infrastructure and relying solely on its inter-satellite links, the speed tests showed an average latency of 294ms.

The table below summarises the results of Starlink speed tests performed in South Africa on MyBroadband’s web-based speed test tools since January 2024.

We’ve included results of speed tests on MyBroadband’s mobile apps, but these could be impacted by a router’s Wi-Fi strength and coverage.

Starlink Roaming average speeds and latency — January 2023 to April 2024
Device type Download speed Upload speed Latency
Web-based, includes desktops and laptops (4,077 tests, 661 unique devices) 31.44Mbps 2.76Mbps 294ms
Mobile, includes smartphones and tablets (1,719 tests, 336 unique devices) 21.75Mbps 5.89Mbps 330ms

While fibre or fixed-5G users might be quick to ridicule this performance, it is important to look at the other satellite options available to those in deep rural areas to fully understand Starlink’s impact.

MyBroadband did not have a reliable number of tests performed on these services over the same period that Starlink roaming has been in use in South Africa.

However, even when looking at their ideal advertised speeds, which are not always achievable, they fall well short of Starlink’s tested performance, plan structures, and pricing.

Aside from Starlink roaming with an account in Zambia, the most affordable uncapped satellite package available to residential users in South Africa is a Vox product running on Eutelsat’s geosynchronous service.

For R700 per month on a 24-month contract, users get up to 5Mbps download and 2Mbps upload speeds and latency of around 720ms.

The latter makes applications like video calling difficult and fast-paced competitive online gaming impossible.

In addition, a fair usage policy (FUP) throttles speeds to 1/1Mbps after the first 100GB of consumption in a month and 512/512kbps after 200GB usage.

Starlink only applies some speed restrictions in heavily congested areas after 1TB of consumption. Its service is also month-to-month, with no penalty fees for cancellation.

However, based on user experience in South Africa, it has not throttled connections even when users consume multiple terabytes of data per month.

The package that comes the closest to Starlink in terms of performance is a 30/5Mbps Vox package, priced at R1,869 per month on a 24-month contract.

That is more than double the price of a Starlink regional roaming subscription in many officially supported African countries.

Vox has told MyBroadband it is interested in offering Starlink packages but the SpaceX-operated company wants to deal with customers directly.

The table below compares the prices of Starlink with those of licensed residential satellite broadband services in South Africa.

Uncapped satellite broadband prices compared
ISP/Satellite network Download/upload speeds
Latency
Fair usage policy Once-off equipment costs and other terms Monthly price 
Starlink Roaming direct via Zambia 100/20Mbps
100-300ms
None
  • ZMW11,144 (R5,603)*
  • Month-to-month
ZMW1,000 (R699.99)
Vox/Eutelsat 5/2Mbps
720ms
  • After 100GB: Throttled to 1/1Mbps
  • After 200GB: Throttled to 512/512kbps
  • Installation from R999
  • 24-month contract
R700
IcasaSePush/Starlink Roaming 100/20Mbps
100-300ms
None
  • R17,999 kit and setup fee
  • Month-to-month
Starting from R699.99 (depends on country of registration)
Starlink Roaming direct via Rwanda 100/20Mbps
100-300ms
None
  • RWF509,500 (R7,575)* kit fee
  • Month-to-month
RWF58,800 (R850)
Morclick/Hughes 10/3Mbps
  • After 150GB: Throttled to 3/3Mbps
  • After 250GB: Throttled to 2/2Mbps
  • After 300GB: Throttled to 512/512kbps
  • Installation from R2,500
  • Travel charges may apply
  • 24-month contract
R999
Vox/Eutelsat 10/3Mbps
720ms
  • After 200GB: Throttled to 2.5/2.5Mpbs
  • After 300GB: Throttled to 1/1Mbps
  • Installation from R999
  • Travel charges may apply
  • 24-month contract
R1,000
Starlink Roaming direct via Eswatini 100/20Mbps
100-300ms
None
  • R6,800* kit fee
  • Month-to-month
R1,250
Morclick/Hughes 20/3Mbps
  • After 200GB: Throttled to 7/3Mbps
  • After 350GB: Throttled to 3/3Mbps
  • After 400GB: Throttled to 512/512kbps
  • Installation from R2,500
  • Travel charges may apply
  • 24-month contract
R1,299
Starlink Roaming direct via Mozambique 100/20Mbps
100-300ms
None
  • MZN22,000 (R7,778)* kit fee
  • Month-to-month
MZN3,645 (R1,062)
Vox/Eutelsat 20/3Mbps
720ms
  • After 200GB: Throttled to 5/3Mbps
  • After 300GB: Throttled to 2/2Mbps
  • Installation from R999
  • 24-month contract
R1,379
Vox/Hughes 10/3Mbps
720ms
  • After 150GB: Throttled to 5/5Mbps
  • After 250GB:
  • Throttled to 3/3Mbps
  • After 300GB: Throttled to 1/1Mbps
  • Installation from R999
  • Travel charges may apply
  • 24-month contract
R1,497
Vox/Hughes 20/3Mbps
720ms
  • After 200GB: Throttled to 10/3Mbps
  • After 350GB: Throttled to 5/3Mbps
  • After 300GBThrottled to 2/2Mbps
  • Installation from R999
  • Travel charges may apply
  • 24-month contract
R1,769
Vox/Eutelsat 30/5Mbps
720ms
  • After 200GB: Throttled to 10/5Mbps
  • After 300GB: Throttled to 4/4Mbps
  • Installation from R999
  • Travel charges may apply
  • 24-month contract
R1,869
Vox/Eutelsat 50/5Mbps
720ms
  • After 200GB: Throttled to 15/5Mbps
  • After 300GB: Throttled to 5/5Mbps
  • Installation from R999
  • Travel charges may apply
  • 24-month contract
R2,629
*Excludes VAT, import taxes, and shipping to South Africa.

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Starlink speeds and prices wiping the floor with South Africa’s legal satellite Internet services