Can Starlink Internet pick up and dominate Africa’s internet service provision?

Starlink

The internet today can very much be considered a need for the average youth and businessman. We do so much online; communicating, entertaining, working, and even banking and finance, all conveniently at our fingertips. Yet still, in many African countries, the cost of data and reliable internet remains steep. Internet service provision is often dominated and monopolized by select providers, which gives them reign to price their packages at will. Of course, many other service providers have tried to enter the market, but it just doesn’t always work out. In Uganda, for instance, where Airtel Uganda and MTN Uganda are the lead service providers, it’s been a real struggle for emerging companies like Africell, Vodaphone, and the recent Manda mobile and Lyca mobile. It’s not that their services are below standard, but because they dive into a market that’s already monopolized with the same product. Most users already own SIM cards from both Airtel and MTN, making it cumbersome to fund a third SIM. Even when these companies make exciting offers like lower cost and higher volume bundles, juggling multiple SIM cards and their dedicated devices is a hassle. In terms of service provision, Africa often operates as a winner-takes-all kind environment.

So, how would Starlink internet fare in this landscape? As a satellite-based internet service, Starlink offers a potential game-changer compared to the conventional providers we’ve had so far. Unlike conventional providers, Starlink doesn’t rely on communication poles and lines to span the nations for coverage, making it ideal even for the most remote areas. By bypassing traditional infrastructure, Starlink reaches previously unreachable areas, presenting a challenge no other company has put up.

Unlike terrestrial providers that require extensive infrastructure, Starlink employs a network of low-earth orbit satellites that allow it to connect efficiently. This is particularly beneficial in countries where laying cables is often impractical and quite expensive. So far, Nigeria, Rwanda, Kenya, and Zambia among others, have already embraced this new service.

This emergence into African markets has the potential to disrupt existing monopolies. Personally, my internet is decent, but if Uganda were to adopt Starlink, I would definitely try it out. By providing an alternative to the already established providers, Starlink introduces much-needed competition, which can lead to better pricing and improved service quality as the companies strive to retain their users.

In South Africa, where internet prices have been a long-standing issue, Starlink’s competitive pricing and high-speed offers have put pressure on the local providers to re-evaluate their strategies. However, as of June 14, 2024, Starlink is not available in South Africa due to violation of certain Terms and conditions.

Additionally, Starlink’s service model eliminates the need for multiple SIM cards and devices. Its simplicity appeals to users who are tired of juggling different service providers, after all, with just one connection, they can enjoy consistent and reliable internet.

In Kenya, for example, Starlink has facilitated online learning in remote areas where traditional internet access was previously unavailable. This has not only helped students join today’s digital age of learning but also empowered teachers with online resources that were previously out of reach.

However, while the potential benefits of Starlink are significant, there are also challenges to consider. Firstly, the initial set-up cost is typically higher than the standard SIM cards or modems. This may be a barrier for many users, but over time, the investment can pay off considering the competitive data package pricing, For instance, in Kenya, Starlink has introduced a 50GB monthly package at Ksh1,300 (about 38,000Ugx), which is less than half the price for Airtel which charges Ksh3,000 for the same package or Safaricom at Ksh2,500 for 45GB data.

Moreover, regulatory hurdles in different countries may impact Starlink’s rollout. Governments may impose restrictions or demand regulatory approvals that could delay or limit access. There is a need to engage with regulators and local laws to ensure compliance.

As Starlink continues to expand across Africa, its impact on internet services provision could be profound. By challenging existing monopolies, providing high-speed internet access to remote areas and simplifying connectivity, Starlink offers a glimpse into a future with reliable internet accessible to all.  Its promise is not just about faster internet—it’s about unlocking opportunities, driving innovation, and empowering communities.

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Andronicus E. Muwanguzi
Andronicus Enoch Muwanguzi is a passionate Ugandan writer, novelist, poet and web-developer. He spends his free time reading, writing and jamming to Spotify music.

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