Elon Musk’s Starlink now has a full coverage of the entire planet earth and by extension, that means that Zimbabwe is now fully covered. Starlink is a revolutionary type of satellite internet that uses low orbit satellites to give very fast and affordable internet that is much cheaper and more responsive than traditional VSAT internet. In fact, the connection is comparable to 5G connections in real-world tests with the service having top speeds of around 350 Mbps. Elon Musk has already promised that these speeds will improve soon.

The news that Starlink now covers the whole earth and thus Zimbabwe as well was recently revealed by Elon Musk on Twitter after Starlink launched the latest batch of satellites.

These polar launches will enable complete coverage of Earth.

Elon Musk on Twitter

Why is Starlink a gamechanger?

As already said Starlink uses satellite which means it comes with very wide coverage. As already said it now covers every nook and cranny of Zimbabwe. Secondly, it uses low orbit satellites which makes it very fast in terms of what we call latency (measured using ping) compared to traditional VSAT internet. Traditional VSAT takes as much as seconds to send data across the internet, in comparison Starlink has a latency of less than 50ms which is comparable to Liquid Home’s Wibroniks for example.

More importantly, Starlink is much faster than anything we currently have on the market. Liquid Home and TelOne offer speeds of up to 100 Mbps for their most expensive packages but by default, Starlink offers speeds of up to 100 Mbps for just US$99 per month. In comparison, Utande charges US$99 for 5 Mbps uncapped LTE. Their more expensive pro package comes with speeds of up to 350 Mbps which is more than triple the speeds we have. Zimbabwe shamefully does not have gigabit internet on the market. Starlink’s coming will jolt these relaxed ISPs into action as they seek to defend their territory.

We have already mentioned Starlink’s superpower but it is worth mentioning again. It covers the entire country of Zimbabwe already. This means that you can get up to 100 Mbps in the midst of Harare, in the depths of Honde Valley, in the midst of Binga or from the pits of Muzarabani. That can be very useful and valuable for remote entities that have had to pay through the nose for VSAT. You also have to pay for installation. Starlink does not need to be installed. You just put the dish on the ground and it does its thing. You can mount it up on your roof and it configures itself.

My colleagues and people from the United States and other countries feel like Starlink is too expensive to make a difference in Zimbabwe. Those from the U.S say these because the internet is generally cheaper there with people paying less than US$100 for gigabit internet. It’s only natural they think it is expensive given what they are used to paying. As for my fellow sceptical countrymen, most of them are used to staying in Harare where they have Liquid Home, TelOne and Utande at their beck and call.

If you leave the capital, you start losing a bar every kilometre or so and before that familiar Harare skyline even disappears behind you that 4G signal turns into a dreaded E. Even WhatsApp messages start taking ages to arrive and go. Downloading small video clips turns into a dreadful chore. When you do finally reach your rural growth point you will be resorting to SMS and calls like some grey-haired boomer. The only relief in areas like these is TelOne’s VSAT which is priced similarly or more than what Starlink is offering.

Starlink will make a difference if it does come to Zimbabwe mark my words. I have observed the Zimbabwean internet market for over a decade and a half so you bet I know what works and what does not. People should be more excited about Starlink that the 5G nonsense we are hearing from our MNOs. There is nothing impressive about a couple of base stations covering urban Harare allowing you to sample your Private WiFi bundles at slightly higher speeds while the rest of the country has barely usable internet.

So when is the service coming to Zimbabwe?

Now that is the thing, Starlink already covers Zimbabwe but they are not yet operating in Zimbabwe because they need permission. That is the final hurdle they have to clear. The problem is even though he is technically a South African, Elon Musk most likely would not be able to point out where Zimbabwe is on a map. Zimbabwe is a tiny insignificant market it is doubtful we are on Starlink’s radar.

There is however an opportunity here for ISPs in Zimbabwe to partner with Starlink to offer this service. Utande already has a partnership with a South African VSAT company that improved its VSAT offering. Starlink would really boost whoever partners with them even if they add a markup on top of the service. Currently, the Starlink service says it will be available in Zimbabwe in 2023 so it is possible they are already in talks with a local ISP concerning a possible partnership. That’s just speculation on my part. When we checked last year they said they expected to launch in 2022 so the date has been pushed back before. It is also possible that pushing back the date was an equipment issue as Starlink just like most tech companies is struggling with chip shortages.

You can preorder now

If you have a hundred bucks lying around you can preorder the service and reserve a spot which will ensure that you will be ahead of the queue when the service does eventually launch in Zimbabwe. To pre-order you have to follow these steps:

  • Go to the Starlink website
  • Enter your address, if you are in a rural area you might just need to enter your nearest growth point
  • Click on Order
  • You will be redirected to the payment page where you will enter your payment details and card number. This will cost you US$99.
  • When the service becomes available you will be charged $500 for the equipment and some unspecified additional shipping fee. But if Starlink does eventually partner with a Zimbabwean company as is likely, you probably will not have to pay for shipping. Again that is very affordable compared to what we pay for equipment in Zimbabwe.

That’s all there is to it. Personally, I am still very excited despite the rather high investment cost. As soon as Starlink lands on these shores I will be one of the first to sign up even if I have to take a loan. The whole thing will pay for itself in a rural setup where you charge people for usage. There is even an exciting possibility of setting up smart villages using this , cantenas, solar chargers and smartphones.