Sat. Sep 30th, 2023
Vodacom to Launch Mobile Satellite Internet Service, Competing with Starlink in Africa

Vodacom Group is preparing to introduce mobile satellite internet terminals, aiming to connect unserved and underserved mobile customers across Africa. This move puts Vodacom in direct competition with Elon Musk’s Starlink in the race to provide high-speed mobile broadband to remote and rural areas in Africa.

Through a partnership with Amazon, Vodacom will leverage Amazon’s constellation of satellites in low earth orbit (LEO) to connect cellular antennas in various locations to its core telecom networks. This partnership allows Vodacom to expand its 4G and 5G services in Africa via satellite, putting it in direct competition with Starlink across its African footprint.

The collaboration with Amazon’s Project Kuiper gives Vodacom the ability to offer 4G/5G services in more locations without the need for building expensive fiber-based or fixed wireless links. The goal is to quickly reach more customers across the African continent.

GSMA’s State of Mobile Internet Connectivity 2022 report indicates that although mobile coverage and usage have improved in Africa, coverage gaps remain the highest in the world. Slow internet speeds and high data costs, particularly in the Sahara region, contribute to these gaps. Central Africa has the widest coverage gaps, with 39% of the population living outside a mobile broadband coverage area.

In March 2023, Amazon unveiled satellite receivers under Project Kuiper, targeting tens of millions of customers. Vodacom, Vodafone, and Project Kuiper are also exploring backup services and connectivity expansion for remote infrastructure. They plan to test two prototype satellites with select customers by the end of 2024.

Vodacom operates in several African countries and has over 185 million customers. Meanwhile, Starlink, with 1.5 million subscribers, offers a more expensive satellite internet service. While Starlink is available in Kenya, Nigeria, Rwanda, and Mozambique, it is yet to receive a license to operate in South Africa.