South Africa is not among the 37 African countries where SpaceX’s Starlink aims to roll out in the next two years.
The satellite Internet service now has widespread availability across several European countries, North and South America, and Australasia.
In Asia, it is currently only available in Japan, with further rollouts set for 2023 in Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, and several other countries.
The only populated continent where Starlink is not available is Africa, which already has the lowest level of broadband penetration in the world.
The World Bank has estimated that only 29% of people in Sub-Saharan Africa had access to the Internet in 2020.
Starlink’s promise of high-speed and low-latency connectivity could provide a big boost to Africa’s economic activity.
It could also play a critical role in providing communication in areas where health and safety are a constant concern and giving access to educational material in rural schools.
With its latest laser-fitted satellites, Starlink does not even require ground stations to provide its network in the most remote areas of the world.
Starlink updated its global coverage map with new estimated availability dates for several countries at the start of 2023.
Several locations in Africa had their previous ETAs shifted back, including Nigeria and Mozambique, both of which were initially anticipated to get the service by the end of last year.
The earliest the first African countries are expected to get Starlink now is in the second quarter of 2023.
Overall, there are 22 officially-recognised African countries where Starlink aims to roll out in the coming year, when including Somaliland.
Another disputed territory where Starlink is set to become available in 2023 is Western Sahara.
Three of South Africa’s neighbours are set to get the service this year — Eswatini (formerly Swaziland), Mozambique, and Zimbabwe.
A further 15 countries are slated to get the service in 2024, including two more of South Africa’s neighbours — Botswana and Namibia.
South Africa counts among 18 countries where no information on a rollout date is available yet, with the ETA showing “Unknown”.
The table below shows in which African countries Starlink plans to roll out in 2023 and 2024, and those where it currently has no confirmed launch windows.
|Starlink launch dates in Africa|
|2023||2024||Unconfirmed launch window|
Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)
São Tomé and Príncipe
Central African Republic
Starlink’s rollout windows reflect the progress made in SpaceX’s negotiations with the relevant telecoms authorities in each country.
That is because, like any other wireless network, the service relies on radio frequency spectrum.
Use of this spectrum needs to be licenced for use in each country, while some territories also need to approve the customer-premise equipment required to access the service.
In South Africa, those decisions will be up to the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (Icasa).
While Icasa previously confirmed that it was in early discussions with SpaceX over Starlink’s possible entry into the market in February 2021, it has gone silent over the issue in the two years since then.
Meanwhile, Starlink’s launch window in South Africa has been delayed repeatedly.
One possible hurdle might be that Icasa requires new telecoms licensees to have at least 30% black ownership, a threshold SpaceX is unlikely to meet.
There were also concerns over Starlink’s possible impact on the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) radiotelescope’s operations.
But these have been addressed, with the company creating a large exclusion zone around the site to avoid interference.