Elon Musk’s Starlink will be in SA in 2022 – here’s how it will work
Starlink, a division of Elon Musk’s SpaceX, says its satellite internet services will be available in South Africa in 2022.
Aimed at connecting rural areas left out of the fibre rollout, Starlink uses a constellation of satellites to beam high-speed broadband internet down to receivers.
South Africans can pay a $99 (around R1,450) deposit to gain priority access to Starlink.
Elon Musk’s SpaceX aims to launch its new Starlink satellite internet service in South Africa in 2022. While the monthly subscription fee and equipment costs in South Africa are yet to be determined, customers need to pay a $99 (R1,441) deposit to gain priority access within their respective regions.
SpaceX started development on the Starlink satellite internet constellation in 2015. Prototypes were first launched into earth’s orbit in 2018, with a further 60 operational satellites deployed the following year.
By mid-April 2021, SpaceX had launched more than 1,400 small satellites to an altitude of 550 km.
The current beta phase – which allows for fluctuating internet connectivity during periods of network testing – is currently rolled out in the US, Canada, the UK, Germany, Poland, New Zealand, and Australia.
Nigeria is likely to be the first country in Africa to gain access to Starlink in 2021, according to the coverage target date provided by the internet service’s pre-order system.
Starlink satellites beam high-speed broadband internet down to receivers as an alternative to cable-based fibre systems. This is especially important for people in rural areas that lack fibre infrastructure.
During the current beta phase, Starlink says data speeds will vary from 50Mbs to 150Mbs with latency between 20ms to 40ms.
“As we launch more satellites, install more ground stations and improve our networking software, data speed, latency, and uptime will improve dramatically,” explains Starlink.
Users who pay a refundable deposit will get priority access. This payment ensures that “you have established priority within your region for purchasing the Starlink Kit when available”. This Starlink Kit includes a wifi router, power supply, cables, and mounting tripod.
The cost of this equipment varies according to different regions. In the US, this kit costs $499 (R7,267). In the UK it costs £439 (R8,783). The price for South African customers has not been determined.
Users will pay a monthly subscription fee. This costs $99 (R1,441) in the US, £89 (R1,780) in the UK, and AUD139.00 (R1,539) in Australia. It’s not yet clear whether South African prices will be determined according to the local rand or tied to the dollar, which the volatile exchange rate will heavily influence.
In addition to the comparatively expensive internet costs – with South Africa’s current fibre and fixed wireless options being considerably cheaper – Starlink has other important operational considerations.
Internet receivers need to have a clear field of view, unobstructed by buildings and tall trees. Starlink defines a clear field of view as a 100-degree cone around the centre of the dish (after tilting) with a 25-degree elevation. Objects and structures which disrupt the receiver’s ability to “see” the Starlink satellite will result in diminished connectivity.
“The best guidance we can give is to install your Starlink at the highest elevation possible where it is safe to do so, with a clear view of the sky… users who live in areas with lots of tall trees, buildings, may not be good candidates for early use of Starlink,” explains the satellite internet provider’s website.
Customers are urged to use the Starlink mobile app to assess the field of view before installing the receiver.
Adverse weather conditions – including heavy rain and wind – can also impact internet connectivity, “potentially leading to slower speeds or a rare outage.”