Elon Musk’s Space-X owned service, Starlink has just announced that they will be launching their revolutionary Starlink service in Nigeria starting next month after they were granted an operating licence by the Nigerian government. The licence was granted on the first of last month and will expire in 2032. This means that citizens of Nigeria can order the Starlink equipment and get connected. On a continent where fast 100Mbps+ internet is rare the launch of Starlink can be a game-changer.
Not for the typical rural user
In the U.S and Europe Starlink is often marketed as a service meant for sparsely populated rural areas. Something a farmer who lives far away from good cell service and fibre internet would consider. In Africa, including Zimbabwe, the use case will be a little bit different to this. The average rural dweller would not be able to afford this.
Slightly more than half of sub-Sahara’s population lives in rural areas but they also tend to be poor and engaged in mostly subsistence farming. This explains why the internet penetration rate has struggled to go above the 65% mark. The majority of people connect using mobile internet and there are not many of these in remote rural areas. Where they are they tend to be connected to the internet via microwave backhaul and provide slow Edge connections.
While the average rural dweller will not be able to afford this remote business centres have had to fork thousands for slow traditional VSAT internet. You also have rural schools that have been left behind by the internet revolution. They all would be able to afford Starlink’s service quite easily given how much they already pay for capped VSAT connections.
Starlink’s service is going for around US$99 per month. From what I can gather, that is considered expensive in the U.S and Europe but in Zimbabwe a good internet connection that is nowhere as fast as Starlink would cost you double that easy. Utande’s LTE service costs around US$99 for 5Mbps for example which is less than 1/20 of the speeds Starlink is offering. In fact, most African countries do not even have gigabit internet.
A lot of publications have scoffed at the launch of Starlink in Africa calling it a wasted effort as most typical African rural dwellers will not be able to afford their services. They are missing the point. Africa is a land of minerals and remote lodges that often struggle to get a good internet connection. Imagine a lodge in the Matobos, in the midst of Gonarezhou or perched in the Eastern Highlands. All these areas do not have fibre or good LTE coverage. You also have mines that have remote onsite offices that need to connect with their head offices in urban areas. All these would be good candidates for Starlink’s service and they would welcome it.
We shouldn’t also be quick to dismiss the average rural user. With a wireless village setup using cantenas as has been done in Mankosi in South Africa, Starlink’s service can actually be very affordable. The costs of the connection can be shared by the whole village. We have also seen internet cafe’s being set up in rural areas powered by TelOne’s VSAT service which is more expensive than Starlink. So there is a use case for Starlink in Africa.