If you are familiar with SpaceX you may have heard about Starlink. SpaceX designs, manufactures, and launches advanced rockets and spacecraft. Elon Musk is SpaceX’s CEO and has been since it was founded on 14 March 2002. Starlink is SpaceX’s high-speed, low-latency, broadband internet system. Starlink is the largest network of orbital satellites worldwide that provide broadband internet access. Working Starlink prototypes were first launched into orbit five years ago. Today Starlink has more than 1 million monthly active users (MAU). Soon it is going to be rolled out in Zimbabwe.

Current Starlink Coverage

The current MAU of over 1 million speaks to how much ground remains to cover. Some countries in Europe now have coverage. There is comprehensive coverage in most of the USA. There is also coverage in Australia and Asia, though Japan is the only Asian country covered so far. There are, of course, plans to roll out Starlink in more countries. Starlink has plans to roll out coverage in some African countries. This is highly anticipated, given how erratic or unavailable broadband internet access is in most African countries.

Roll Out Of Starlink In Africa

Up till now, there was no Starlink access in any African country. That is about to change as Starlink plans on starting African rollouts in the second quarter of 2023. As it stands, Starlink has earmarked 22 African countries for rollout. These are scheduled to get Starlink access this year, 2023. Then another 15 will get their rollouts in 2024. Zimbabwe is one of the African countries that will get Starlink access in 2023. This suggests that Starlink managed to get the green light from Zimbabwean telecoms regulatory authorities. Here is a breakdown of the Starlink launch dates for African countries in 2023 and 2024:

2023

Angola, Benin, Congo, DRC, Eswatini, Gabon, Kenya, Malawi, Mauritania, Mauritius, Morocco, Mozambique, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, Seychelles, Somaliland, Tanzania, Togo, West Sahara, Zambia, and Zimbabwe

2024

Botswana, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Cape Verde, Comoros, Egypt, Gambia, Guinea-Bissau, Ivory Coast, Liberia, Namibia, São Tomé and Príncipe, Tunisia, and Uganda

Implications For Zimbabwe

In theory, the coming in of Starlink in Zimbabwe sounds great. After all, Starlink offers high-speed and low-latency broadband internet access. In fact, the unique value proposition of Starlink is high speeds and unlimited data. This far outweighs any other internet service providers in any category. Yes, some providers do have unlimited data. However, you usually see speeds going down once you reach a certain threshold. Thus Starlink does wield superior qualities. However, there could be some hurdles in its uptake in Zimbabwe, chief among them being high costs.

Cost Of Access Per User Is Steep!

According to the Starlink website, Starlink access costs a user US$110 as a monthly subscription. This is for unlimited access and speed. Then there is a one-time hardware cost of US$599. Clearly, the price may be problematic for Starlink uptake in Zimbabwe. That is the sad part for most Zimbabweans who cannot afford this service. A breakdown of Starlink plans to choose from:

Starlink Basic

This costs US$110 per month. The hardware cost is US$599. You get internet speeds ranging from 50 to 250 Mbps.

Starlink Business

This one costs US$500 per month. The hardware cost is US$2500. Internet speeds here range from 150 to 500 Mbps.

Starlink RV

This costs US$135 per month. The hardware cost is US$599. You get internet speeds between 50 and 250 Mbps.

Clearly, you can tell that the costs are steep for most Zimbabweans to afford. We are yet to see how everything will pan out, though. Given how different the African context is, it is highly likely that the costs could be lower than those figures, but on the other hand, taxes may make it higher.

Installation And Repair Complications

There are some issues of concern with installation. Some have noted that installation is not particularly easy to do. For example, it is stipulated that the dish has to be placed somewhere very high. Plus, there must be a clear line of sight to the sky. This means the dish must be high enough to clear the top of anything in its vicinity, e.g. buildings and vegetation. Satisfying these stipulations may not be possible in some places.

Especially in populated areas, e.g. central business districts (CBDs). This can also apply to areas with tall, dense vegetation or mountainous areas. There have also been concerns regarding repairs. For instance, the internet cable is permanently connected to the dish. This means it cannot be disconnected in any way. That means if it gets damaged, somehow you cannot just replace it. You would have to replace the actual dish set. This does increase costs.

There is a fair share of advantages and disadvantages when it comes to Starlink. In Zimbabwe, there seem to be a number of downsides. The cost of getting access to Starlink is just too high. Once the rollout commences or is completed, we shall get a much clearer picture. What do you think?