Starlink versus uncapped fixed-LTE in South Africa

Many South Africans who once relied on fixed-LTE broadband for connectivity in rural areas without fibre coverage now use SpaceX’s Starlink roaming service.

Northern Cape-based Internet service provider IT-Lec previously told MyBroadband it shifted customers to Starlink roaming because of poor connectivity on MTN or Vodacom during load-shedding.

Many of the company’s customers were farmers or businesses in rural areas, of whom only the more fortunate had access to a cellular network.

However, even those within these coverage areas ran into problems during load-shedding.

While small uninterruptible power supplies could power their LTE routers during load-shedding, they remained at the mercy of the backup power at their nearest cellular towers.

These towers generally serve a small number of customers and are difficult to secure due to their remote locations.

Not only is it risky for mobile operators to install expensive backups at these sites, it does not make financial sense.

IT-Lec said that MTN and Vodacom offered little tower backup capacity or technical support in rural Northern Cape, which is why it migrated its customers to Starlink.

Starlink is not susceptible to load-shedding as long as the user has a small backup system to power the router and dish, which typically consume around 50W to 80W of power.

Its satellites transmit signals from and to customers in South Africa using inter-satellite laser links, which relay data between satellites until a packet reaches a satellite within communications distance of a ground station in another country.

When Starlink recently started notifying customers in South Africa that it would shut down roaming coverage in areas without official availability in May 2024, many South African users expressed dread at returning to fixed-LTE.

To date, SpaceX has continued to operate its Starlink roaming service in South Africa.

Starlink upfront costs are pricey — but usage policies and prices compete well

MyBroadband compared the speeds, fair usage policies, and prices of Starlink regional roaming in supported African countries with fixed-LTE services in South Africa.

The once-off costs of a Starlink kit and router are substantially more expensive than the hardware needed for a fixed-LTE service.

The most affordable place to buy a Starlink kit near South Africa is Eswatini, where the company charges R6,800.

However, that is only if you are not slapped with additional import duties at the border.

Vodacom and MTN’s fixed-LTE networks require higher-end LTE routers that typically cost over R1,000 when bought new.

However, Starlink’s speeds and relaxed fair usage policy (FUP) are generally better than those of similarly priced fixed-LTE products.

While Starlink does have a FUP, this is only imposed in congested areas, which does not appear to include South Africa.

Multiple Starlink users in online groups have reported using several terabytes of data in a month without any service degradation.

The table below compares Starlink’s roaming package price with fixed-LTE services from major ISPs.

Starlink vs uncapped LTE in South Africa
ISP/network Download speed Fair usage policy Once-off costs Monthly price
MTN/MTN Up to 10Mbps After first 100GB consumption: Throttled to 2Mbps Free-to-use router included R269
Axxess/MTN Up to 20Mbps After first 50GB consumption: Throttled to 2Mbps R1,499 for supported router R299
Axxess/Telkom Up to 10Mbps After first 500GB consumption: Throttled to 10Mbps
After first 550GB consumption: Throttled to 2Mbps
Additional throttling for peer-to-peer traffic
Use your own LTE router R299
Axxess/Vodacom Up to 20Mbps After first 50GB consumption: Throttled to 2Mbps R1,499 for supported router R299
MTN/MTN Up to 20Mbps After first 400GB consumption: Throttled to 2Mbps Free-to-use router included R429
Axxess/MTN Up to 50Mbps After first 100GB consumption: Throttled to 2Mbps R1,499 for supported router R349
Axxess Vodacom Up to 30Mbps After first 150GB consumption: Throttled to 2Mbps R1,499 for supported router R399
Axxess/MTN Up to 100Mbps After first 400GB consumption: Throttled to 2Mbps R1,499 for supported router R549
MTN/MTN Up to 35Mbps After first 500GB consumption: Throttled to 10Mbps Free-to-use router included R499
Axxess/Vodacom Up to 50Mbps After first 300GB consumption: Throttled to 2Mbps R1,499 for supported router R499
Starlink/Starlink Regional Roaming 150—200Mbps None applied R6,800 — R12,999 for Starlink dish and router R590—R1,900 (depends on country of registration)
Afrihost/Telkom Up to 10Mbps After first 500GB consumption: Throttled to 10Mbps
After first 550GB consumption: Throttled to 2Mbps
Additional throttling for peer-to-peer traffic
Free router included R597
Axxess/Vodacom Best-effort speeds After first 600GB consumption: Throttled to 1Mbps R1,499 for supported router R699
Axxess/Telkom Up to 20Mbps After first 600GB consumption: Throttled to 4Mbps
After first 650GB consumption: Throttled to 2Mbps
Additional throttling for peer-to-peer traffic
Use your own LTE router R695
MTN/MTN Up to 60Mbps After first 800GB consumption: Throttled to 2Mbps Free-to-use router included R699
Axxess/MTN Up to 200Mbps After first 600GB consumption: Throttled to 2Mbps R1,499 for supported router R749
Axxess/MTN Best-effort speeds After first 1TB consumption: Throttled to 1Mbps R1,499 for supported router R779
Afrihost/MTN Up to 150Mbps After first 1TB consumption: Throttled to 1Mbps R1,499 for supported router R949
Afrihost/Telkom Up to 20Mbps After first 600GB consumption: Throttled to 4Mbps
After first 650GB consumption: Throttled to 2Mbps
Additional throttling for peer-to-peer traffic
Free router included R997
MTN/MTN Best-effort service After first 1.5TB consumption: Throttled to 2Mbps Free-to-use router included R999

Latest news

Partner Content

Show comments

Recommended

Share this article
Starlink versus uncapped fixed-LTE in South Africa