Safaricom to compete with Starlink in Kenya with proposed launch of satellite internet

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Safaricom’s satellite internet will be made available through AST SpaceMobile
Safaricom CEO, Peter Ndegwa

Leading telecom operator Safaricom has revealed plans to bring satellite internet services to Kenya, a territory that Elon Musk’s Starlink has marked for entry later this year. While there’s much talk about the 5G internet and how it intends to revolutionize internet access, satellite internet connections are, perhaps, a bigger disruptor of the status quo. 

Safaricom has confirmed that its forthcoming satellite internet will be made available through AST SpaceMobile, a Starlink rival. Vodacom, Safaricom’s parent company, has an existing partnership with AST SpaceMobile and is an investor in the satellite internet provider. 

A Texas-based company, AST SpaceMobile is developing a space-oriented network that will provide areas with glaring coverage gaps access to satellite-based internet. It’s worth adding that standard mobile phones will be able to access the space-based broadband network. This is a huge deal, seeing as it’ll be the first company to do this. 

Safaricom now allows Kenyans pay for goods with internet data balance

With AST SpaceMobile’s satellite internet, Safaricom could build on its current broadband offerings which consumers currently enjoy through various outlets like Wi-FI, cellular networks, and fibre optic cables. Part of Vodacom’s annual report revealed that AST SpaceMobile’s prototype satellite Bluewalker 3 took part in initial functionality testing last year. This was to prepare the satellite for an official trial in Kenya scheduled for Q2 of 2023. 

The report sheds more light on the proposed satellite internet service delivery. “After successfully completing the trial, AST SpaceMobile will scale up their satellite deployments in partnership with Vodacom to provide ubiquitous communications to 4G devices across Africa and beyond,” Vodacom said. 

Regarding potential revenue, AST SpaceMobile will split the profit 50/50 with Safaricom and other subsidiary companies of Vodacom. To ensure the deal thrives, both parties decided to sustain mutual exclusivity within their fields. 

Read also: How to get Elon Musk’s Starlink internet from Nigeria in 2023 

Starlink is already available in a number of African countries including Nigeria, Rwanda, and Mozambique. Last month, Sierra Leone issued the Musk-owned company an operational license, making it the fifth country on the continent to welcome the satellite internet provider. 

Despite being a newcomer, Starlink bested other internet service providers in Nigeria in Q1 of 2023 with a median download speed of 110.8 Mbps. While there are concerns about its performance in adverse weather like during a storm, Starlink has proven that it shouldn’t be taken lightly. 

Starlink in South Africa

In January this year, Starlink set its sights on Kenya, a market heavily dominated by Safaricom in terms of the internet, and M-Pesa (Safaricom-owned) in terms of mobile money. Last year, Safaricom became the first telco to launch a 5G network in Kenya. Although Airtel recently joined the party, the latest data shows that Safaricom maintains a scary monopoly over the East African country.

With Safaricom eyeing the satellite internet field, Starlink may have a huge challenge on its hands. As mentioned, Safaricom’s partner, AST SpaceMobile’s technology targets mobile phones, a business move that could help Safaricom retain its dominance. But then, it depends on how Starlink plays its game. 

In Rwanda, the tech company deployed its high-speed internet service to schools. This has enabled many schoolchildren to not only unlock online learning opportunities but significantly improve their digital literacy level. Perhaps if Starlink targets a similar market, there just might be a chance for the Elon Musk-led company. Starlink claimed its satellite internet would be accessible last month. While that hasn’t happened yet, one hopes Kenyans would not have to wait for long. 


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