Safaricom, a leading telecom operator in Kenya, has announced its plans to offer satellite internet services in the country. This move comes as Elon Musk’s Starlink prepares to enter the Kenyan market later this year. While much attention is given to 5G technology, satellite internet connections have the potential to disrupt the existing status quo even further.
Safaricom has confirmed that it will provide its satellite internet service through AST SpaceMobile, a rival of Starlink. AST SpaceMobile, based in Texas, is developing a space-based network to offer satellite internet access to areas with limited coverage.
Notably, standard mobile phones will be able to connect to this broadband network, making it the first of its kind. Safaricom aims to enhance its existing broadband offerings, which currently include Wi-Fi, cellular networks, and fiber optic cables.
AST SpaceMobile’s prototype satellite, Bluewalker 3, underwent initial functionality testing last year, preparing for an official trial in Kenya scheduled for Q2 of 2023.
According to Vodacom’s annual report, after a successful trial, AST SpaceMobile plans to scale up its satellite deployments in partnership with Vodacom, offering ubiquitous communication to 4G devices across Africa and beyond.
In terms of revenue sharing, AST SpaceMobile will split profits equally with Safaricom and other Vodacom subsidiary companies. To ensure the success of the partnership, both parties have agreed to maintain mutual exclusivity in their respective fields.
The Significance of Safaricom’s Satellite for Starlink in Kenya.
As for Starlink, it has already expanded its services to several African countries, including Nigeria, Rwanda, and Mozambique. Despite being a newcomer, Starlink outperformed other internet service providers in Nigeria in Q1 of 2023, boasting a median download speed of 110.8 Mbps.
While concerns remain about its performance in adverse weather conditions, Starlink has demonstrated its capabilities. In January of this year, Starlink announced its intentions to enter the Kenyan market, where Safaricom currently holds a dominant position in internet services and mobile money with M-Pesa.
Safaricom’s partnership with AST SpaceMobile, which focuses on mobile phones, could present a significant challenge for Starlink. However, the outcome will depend on Starlink’s strategic moves.
In Rwanda, Starlink has already deployed its high-speed internet service in schools, providing online learning opportunities and improving digital literacy among students.
If Starlink targets a similar market in Kenya, it may have a chance to compete against Safaricom. While Starlink’s accessibility in Kenya has not yet materialized, it is hoped that Kenyans will not have to wait too long for this service to become available.
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