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Starlink formally submits application to operate in Zimbabwe

Starlink, the satellite internet service provider owned by Elon Musk’s SpaceX, has formally applied to operate in Zimbabw, the Postal and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe (Potraz) has confirmed.

This development is expected to bring a significant shift in the Zimbabwean internet market, which expensive and unreliable internet services have dominated.

Potraz director-general Dr Gift Machengete revealed this in Bulawayo on Tuesday during a question and answer session at a business function organised by the Ministry of Information Communication Technology (ICTs), Postal and Courier Services on the sidelines of the ongoing 64th edition of the Zimbabwe International Trade Fair (ZITF).

Also Read: Starlink switches off service in South Africa

Responding to the issue, Dr Machengete said the regulator was seized with the matter and was processing the application papers by Starlink.

“Then, why is Starlink not operating right now? The simple answer is Starlink had not applied and we would be foolish to then go and say come and apply, please. 

“Now they have come to apply and we are in the process of looking at their application,” said Dr Machengete.

“We are also a regulator, we need to see how we regulate them. We also have to look at consumer and data protection. 

“But, currently we are in the process of looking at their application.”

Starlink operates by using a constellation of small satellites in low Earth orbit (LEO) to provide broadband internet service. These satellites are deployed at altitudes ranging from 340 km to 1,200 km, significantly lower than traditional geostationary satellites, which allows for reduced latency and increased data transfer speeds.

Each satellite is equipped with multiple high-throughput antennas and uses advanced beamforming and phase array technologies to deliver focused internet signals directly to user terminals on the ground.

The system is designed to work in a mesh network, where satellites communicate with each other using laser links, ensuring seamless coverage and data relay around the globe including the remotest of places. User terminals, which are small, easy-to-install dishes, receive the internet signals and connect devices to the web.

Starlink’s infrastructure is continuously expanding and improving, aiming to provide ubiquitous, high-speed internet access worldwide.

The cost of internet services in Zimbabwe is among the highest in Southern Africa, compounded by a lack of competition and service quality issues. Currently, Econet Wireless, a major player in the market, has operated without substantial competition, which many believe has contributed to high prices and poor service standards. The introduction of Starlink is expected to disrupt the existing market dynamics, presenting a significant challenge to incumbents like Econet. This competition could lead to enhanced service offerings and better pricing structures, benefiting Zimbabwean consumers overall.

In preparation for its potential market entry, Starlink had previously communicated to its Zimbabwean users, who had been accessing its services through roaming, about an impending discontinuation of this temporary service.

Dr Machengete acknowledged that there have been some illegal users of Starlink in the country who have since been cut off.

“So, in short we have not banned them. What we have just done is that those who have been using Starlink terminals were asked to have Starlink switch them off because we cannot allow illegality,” said Dr Machengete.

“I think they have been switched off and maybe there is some outcry. But, you see those were illegal and they will be regularised when they are licenced”.

Despite the notifications sent last month, several users reported that their service remained active. However, it is anticipated that Starlink will imminently cease the roaming service as they await the final decision on their licensing application.

Starlink’s potential entry into Zimbabwe represents a promising development in improving accessibility and affordability of internet services across the region. The introduction of Starlink’s low latency and high data transfer speeds will be a significant improvement for Zimbabwean internet users, who have long suffered from unreliable and expensive internet services.

While the exact pricing structure for Starlink’s services in Zimbabwe is yet to be determined, it is expected to be more affordable than the current offerings in the market. With its vast infrastructure and advanced technology, Starlink is expected to provide high-quality internet services to remote areas in Zimbabwe, which traditional internet service providers have long neglected.

Starlink’s application to operate in Zimbabwe marks a significant shift in the country’s internet market. Its technology and infrastructure have the potential to improve accessibility and affordability of internet services, benefiting Zimbabwean consumers overall. The competition it brings to the market will also push incumbents to improve their services and pricing structures, ultimately leading to a better internet experience for all Zimbabweans.

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