Starlink is slowly making its way to South Africa

 ·3 Oct 2023

Billionaire Elon Musk’s Space Exploration Technologies Corp. will partner with e-commerce firm Jumia Technologies to expand its satellite broadband services in Africa.

Jumia, which counts Pernod Ricard SA and Goldman Sachs Group as investors, will sell Starlink’s satellite terminals and other kits in some African nations, starting with Nigeria, in the coming weeks, Jumia Chief Commercial Officer Hisham El Gabry said in an interview.

Jumia will benefit from the agreement by having the first sales and distribution deal of the kits on the continent.

“We have seen Starlink do these types of deals in Southeast Asia and South America, and now Africa will also have the opportunity to access the fast-speed internet services,” he said. “The plan is to start selling through our sites and agents in Nigeria this month and then Kenya.”

Jumia plans to eventually sell Starlink’s products in the 11 African countries that it operates in – which includes South Africa.

The partnership with Jumia will help Starlink sell terminals in areas that lack formal addresses and city mapping. The portable terminals that connect to low-earth orbit satellites could help deliver broadband services in the continent that has the lowest internet penetration in the world.

While carriers such as MTN Group and Vodacom Group have been the main providers of broadband in Africa, telecom providers find it difficult to roll out infrastructure in remote regions.

Big tech companies have tried to provide high-speed internet in Africa through innovative ideas but failed, reverting back to fibre and sea cables.

Meta Platforms’ Facebook tried to build a gigantic drone to provide high-altitude connectivity on the continent that was later grounded. Alphabet’s Google – using a project called Loon – attempted something similar with helium-filled balloons before scrapping the project two years ago.

Musk’s network of thousands of small satellites that communicate through the user terminals appears to have a better chance to connect people on the vast continent. Still, the cost of a standard Starlink terminal of 435,000 naira ($557) in Nigeria may be a deterrent.

“We had to establish our own business models and transportation network, even mapping to a certain extent when we started building an African e-commerce business,” said El Gabry. “So we have the needed experience in navigating the retail and merchandise landscape in Africa.”

Starlink confirmed the deal without adding any additional details.

Read: Vodacom investing R1 billion to boost network capacity – and combat load shedding

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