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Elon Musk’s Starlink targets Ugandan market to revolutionalize internet service

Starlink is currently the world’s first and largest satellite constellation using a low Earth orbit to deliver broadband internet across the globe.

Starlink is known for its fast internet that fully supports streaming, online gaming and video calls even in the remotest parts of the earth. 

KAMPALA, UGANDA: Starlink, a satellite internet constellation operated by SpaceX is reportedly targeting the Ugandan market in a move that could revolutionize internet service business in the East African country.

According to a report by ChimpReports, the US-based firm owned by billionaire Elon Musk has already written to Uganda’s Communication Regulator (UCC) acknowledging the country’s new Framework for Satellite Communication.

“Yes, they (Starlink) have shown interest. They communicated acknowledging the new satellite regulatory framework” a senior ICT Ministry official was quoted by the publication when asked whether Stalink had applied for a license to operate in Uganda.

The satellite communication framework provides that no person shall use or operate any apparatus for the transmission of energy or communications or signals by satellite communications in the territory of Uganda except under, and in accordance with, an appropriate licence or authorization granted by UCC.

Where the satellite operator provides connectivity or communication services directly to end-users in Uganda (other than through a wholesale arrangement with an operator licensed in Uganda), a National Public Service Provider license shall be required in addition to Landing Rights or space licence.

The website further explored that Starlink, a high-speed internet service provider, intends to apply for a license later this year so as to open business in Uganda in 2024.

The tech company has already been authorized to operate in several African countries including neighbouring Rwanda, Mozambique, Malawi and Nigeria.

Experts say the entry of Starlink into the Ugandan market will increase the level of broadband competitiveness. 

Starlink is known for its fast internet that fully supports streaming, online gaming and video calls even in the remotest parts of the earth. 

The development comes at a time telecommunication service providers are under pressure to adopt more friendly data and voice bundles.

Brian Kwesiga, an ICT expert, says “with the anticipated entry of Starlink as internet service providers, the internet penetration is expected to increase across the country since satellite internet services do not depend on physical and conventional telecommunication infrastructures.”

Kwesiga emphasised: “With all the good internet speeds, the market is expected to be competitive. This will help other competitors to innovate and improve their services, as well as bring down their prices to make them more appealing. Nonetheless, the most widely used and reliable method of accessing the internet is still wired broadband via optical fibers.”

Starlink’s high-speed, low-latency service is made possible via the world’s largest constellation of highly advanced satellites operating in a low orbit around the Earth

Starlink provides broadband speeds of 50–500 Mbps and unlimited data for $110–$500 dollars a month. 

Targeting Rural areas 

Experts say Starlink internet works best for those in rural or remote areas without landline internet options like DSL, cable, or fibre since Ugandans rely on broadband internet connection provided by companies like MTN and Airtel.

Unlike the broadband network, Starlink uses satellite technology that operates wirelessly with a network of low Earth orbit satellites to provide high-speed internet access to areas with limited or no connectivity.

Most satellite internet services come from single geostationary satellites that orbit the planet at 35,786 km. As a result, the round trip data time between the user and satellite—also known as latency—is high, making it nearly impossible to support streaming, online gaming, video calls or other high data rate activities.

The reason why Starlink provides faster internet than broadband is because it has a constellation of thousands of satellites that orbit the planet much closer to Earth, at about 550 km, and cover the entire globe. 

Yet, internet service in Uganda’s rural areas remains poor with customers reporting slow speeds and even lack of internet coverage.

According to the 2022 National Information Technology Survey, about 94% of Uganda’s households, most of which are in rural areas, are not connected on the internet, and have no hope of getting connections.

The survey conducted by National Information Technology Authority (NITA-U), showed that only 13% of the households in urban areas have a working internet connection compared to 3.2% in rural areas.

The concentration of households with access to the internet are in the Buganda South, Buganda North and Kampala sub-regions. 

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The main reasons for not having internet access at home given by close to half (48%) of the households was that the ‘cost of equipment is too high’, followed by 37% of households indicating that the ‘cost of service is too high’.

Lack of knowledge was the most common reason cited in 2017/18, while cost of equipment was ranked third and cost of internet being high was ranked fifth. 

Industry experts say starlink service has the potential to bring reliable and high-speed internet to rural and remote areas, making it a valuable tool for improving education, healthcare, and economic opportunities in underserved communities.

Napak district Woman MP, Hon. Faith Nakut recently said the lack of affordable internet accessibility had hampered the implementation of the government’s new curriculum in secondary schools.

“Secondary schools are implementing a curriculum that requires students to do research, but access to internet data is still limited. How are we managing these children? The Ministry of ICT should negotiate for lower internet rates for our children in schools, especially those in rural schools,” said Nakut.

Prior to licensing, Rwanda tested Starlink connectivity at different points of the country. Interestingly, Starlink speed reached up to 150 Mbps with a very low latency of 20 to 40 milliseconds (ms).

Capitalize on Prices 

Ian Mugabi, an internet service business entrepreneur, says Starlink can save the situation in rural areas but its cost could be its major undoing. 

“Starlink provides connectivity even in the remotest of areas and this will negatively affect many providers of internet since the current ISPs basically only look at urban areas  for connectivity,” said Mugabi, adding, “Starlink will have a plus since it can cover both remote and densely populated urban areas.”

“Uganda has so many organizations scattered all over the country where many internet service providers have struggled to reach.  Even when ISPs reach these areas, they can only provide poor or no internet but I think Starlink will solve this,” he added. 

However, Mugabi says Starlink’s installation costs could be a hindrance for potential customers.

“While the average cost of internet service in Uganda is about $55 per month and a one-time installation at about Shs 100,000; Starlink costs $110 per month with a $599 one-time equipment fee,” said Mugabi.

“No company in Uganda can charge that for a normal installation.” 

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This means Starlink will have to target institutions which are able to pay the high fees for equipment. These include NGOs, education and medical facilities and medium enterprises.

Starlink says business users can download speeds of up to 220 Mbps and latency of 25-50 ms, enabling high throughput connectivity for offices of up to 20 users, storefronts, and demanding workloads.

The Starlink Kit includes everything a customer needs to connect to the internet including your Starlink, WiFi router, power supply, cables, and base.

The kit is designed for portable use at any destination where Starlink has active coverage. 

Starlink would also enable travelers and tourists visiting Uganda’s remote areas to remain in touch with their dear ones. 

With a wide field of view and enhanced GPS capabilities, the Flat High Performance Starlink can connect to more satellites, allowing for consistent connectivity on the go.

The hardware is designed for a permanent installation on a vehicle and is resilient in harsh environments.

Source: ChimpReports

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