Zimbabwe is a country that faces many challenges when it comes to internet access. According to the latest data from the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), only 27.1% of the population had access to the internet in 2020. The internet service providers (ISPs) in the country are often unreliable, expensive, and slow, especially in rural areas. The average broadband speed in Zimbabwe is 9.86 Mbps, which ranks 146th in the world.
However, there is a new technology that could potentially change this situation: Starlink. Starlink is a satellite internet service developed by SpaceX, a company founded by billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk. Starlink aims to provide high-speed, low-latency, and affordable internet access to anyone, anywhere on the planet, using a constellation of thousands of satellites orbiting the Earth at a low altitude. Starlink claims to offer speeds of up to 150 Mbps and latency of 20 to 40 milliseconds, which is comparable to fiber-optic networks.
Starlink is not yet officially available in Zimbabwe, but there are reports that some people have managed to get it working in the country using a roaming service. This means that they bought a Starlink kit from a country where the service is available, such as the UK or Nigeria, and activated the roaming option before shipping it to Zimbabwe. Once the kit arrives, it is just a matter of connecting it to a power source and pointing the dish to the sky. The kit costs around US$599, and the monthly subscription varies depending on the roaming option. For regional roaming, which covers the same continent, the fee is around US$53 per month. For global roaming, which covers anywhere in the world, the fee is around US$218 per month.
These prices may seem high for the average Zimbabwean, but they are actually cheaper than some of the existing ISPs in the country. Moreover, Starlink offers much faster and more consistent speeds than ZOL, which often suffers from congestion, throttling, and outages.
The advantages of Starlink for Zimbabwe are manifold. First, it can provide internet access to remote and underserved areas, where terrestrial infrastructure is lacking or costly to deploy. This can enable people to access online education, health, and business opportunities, as well as social and entertainment services. Second, it can increase the competition and innovation in the internet market, which can lead to lower prices and better quality for consumers. Third, it can enhance the resilience and security of the internet in Zimbabwe, which is often affected by political and economic instability, power cuts, and cyberattacks. Starlink can offer a backup and alternative option for internet users, who can switch to the satellite service in case of any disruptions or censorship.
Of course, Starlink is not a perfect solution, and it faces some challenges and limitations. One of them is the regulatory approval from the government, which is required for any new telecommunications player in Zimbabwe. Starlink has not yet applied for a license from the Postal and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe (POTRAZ), which regulates the airwaves and the spectrum in the country. POTRAZ has stated that Starlink has not enquired with them about setting up service in Zimbabwe, and that they are waiting for an official application from the company. Another challenge is the environmental impact of Starlink, which has raised concerns among astronomers and activists, who fear that the satellites could create light pollution, interfere with astronomical observations, and increase the risk of space debris and collisions.
Despite these challenges, Starlink has the potential to transform Zimbabwe’s internet landscape, and to bring many benefits to the country and its people. Starlink is expected to launch its service in Zimbabwe in 2023, pending regulatory approval. Until then, Zimbabweans can only hope and wait for the arrival of the satellite internet revolution.