Recent updates to the coverage map on the Starlink website indicate that all Southern African nations, with the notable exception of South Africa, will have access to the low-Earth orbit internet service provided by SpaceX’s subsidiary, Starlink, by the end of next year.
Starlink’s Reach in the Southern African Development Community
According to the latest update on starlink.com/map, all countries in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) region, except South Africa, will receive Starlink services next year. When hovering over South Africa on the map, a pop-up message states: “Service date is unknown at this time.” Despite two meetings between communications regulator Icasa and SpaceX officials discussing a potential South African launch for Starlink, SpaceX has not submitted a formal license application to operate Starlink services within South Africa.
Equity Ownership Requirements: A Potential Barrier?
In April, Dianne Kohler Barnard, then the Democratic Alliance spokeswoman on communications, suggested that the ANC’s equity ownership requirements were effectively blocking SpaceX’s entry into the local market. The Electronic Communication Act requires “individual ECS” and “individual ECNS” licensees to have a minimum 30% equity ownership held by persons from historically disadvantaged groups. Communications minister Mondli Gungubele refuted these claims, stating that any interested party could apply for a license through appropriate channels and comply with prevailing legislation.
Internet Access Across Africa
Internet access as a percentage of population varies widely across Africa. Notably, African countries that have already deployed Starlink have internet penetration rates of less than 40%, with Nigeria being an exception at 55%. In South Africa, this figure is around 70%, including access via mobile devices. The aggressive deployment of fibre infrastructure in areas with good mobile penetration has empowered South African consumers and led to a decrease in pricing for both fixed and mobile broadband services. The introduction of Starlink in South Africa could further liberalise the market to benefit consumers and push prices down even further.