Elon Musk’s Starlink satellite internet targets late 2021 launch in Africa

Starlink, the satellite internet constellation being developed by SpaceX, targets Africa’s coverage in late 2021 and 2022.

Only Nigeria may expect the late 2021 launch, while other African countries should have access to Starlink satellite internet service in 2022. To be part of the early users, you have to join the “Better Than Nothing” beta programme because it takes about six months to fulfil a pre-order. You can pre-order on the Starlink website for a refundable $99. The Starlink kit, which includes a mounting tripod, WiFi router, and terminal to connect to the satellites, costs $499.

It is important to note that coverage across countries would vary (see satellites map). With only about 1,300 satellites launched as of February, “users can expect to see data speeds vary from 50 Megabit per second to 150Mbps and latency from 20 milliseconds to 40ms… There will also be brief periods of no connectivity at all”, Starlink says on its website.

Elon Musk, the founder of SpaceX—the parent company of Starlink, has said speed will double to ~300Mbps, and latency will drop to 20ms later this year. He added that Starlink targets most of the populated Earth by the end of 2021 and total coverage by 2022. Thereafter, it would be “about densifying coverage”, Musk said.

Starlink’s goal is to have about 42,000 satellites constellation in orbit by 2027. But the Federal Communications Commission and the International Telecommunication Union have approved only 12,000 of its satellites.

What are the limitations of Starlink satellite internet?

Satellite internet is best for low to medium population density areas. It can also provide internet access to areas where broadband is unreliable or unavailable. However, with a monthly subscription of $99 (that’s about ₦37,000, which is more than the ₦30,000 minimum wage) and $499 (~₦190,000) for the Starlink kit, most people in developing countries may not be able to afford it.

Hence, some analysts had criticised the satellite internet project. They argue that Starlink and its ilks won’t deliver internet access at prices people in developing countries can afford. “It’s a bit like trying to make up for lack of roads by building cars that don’t need them “, Mark Summer, CEO of EveryLayer, told Wired.

Facebook and some of the world’s largest telecom carriers, including China Mobile Ltd, heeded satellite internet critics’ advice to deploy the internet the old-fashioned way, especially in developing countries. In May 2020, Facebook announced that it has partnered with leading African and global operators to build 2Africa, the most comprehensive subsea cable to serve the African continent and the Middle East region.

The regulatory framework SpaceX would have to comply with to operate Starlink in African countries is also unclear. For instance, it is required to obtain a licence before it can operate in South Africa.

Last month, the Independent Communication Authority of South Africa (ICASA) said it is having discussions with SpaceX regarding Starlink. Because to operate Starlink in South Africa, SpaceX would need to obtain an Individual Electronic Communications Network Service (I-ECNS) and Individual Electronics Communications Service licence.