Starlink finally launches in Kenya, to face fierce competition with Safaricom
Starlink has made its official debut in Kenya. This will make Kenya the sixth African country Elon Musk’s Starlink is currently operating. The first was Nigeria followed by Mozambique, Rwanda, Mauritius, and Sierra Leone.
However, this big news for Starlink is coinciding with the recent announcement by leading telecom operator Safaricom regarding its plans to introduce satellite internet services to the country. Safaricom has partnered with AST SpaceMobile, a competitor of Starlink, to carry out this project and this has further intensified the market competition.
AST SpaceMobile is aiming to provide satellite-based internet access to areas with limited coverage, enabling standard mobile phones to connect to the space-based broadband network. This has also led it to a partnership with Vodacom, adding another layer to the growing competition in the region.
With Safaricom’s collaboration with AST SpaceMobile, they are looking to enhance their current broadband offerings, which include Wi-Fi, cellular networks, and fibre optic cables. The company’s satellite internet also boasts download speeds of more than 10 Mbps over LTE.
During testing, AST SpaceMobile’s prototype satellite, Bluewalker 3, showcased its functionality, paving the way for an official trial in Kenya, slated for Q2 of 2023. This ambitious project positions AST Space Mobile as a viable contender in the Kenyan market, providing alternative solutions for internet connectivity.
What is Starlink bringing to Kenyans’ table?
Starlink, like other satellite telecommunication services, utilizes radio signals to transmit internet data through the vacuum of space. But the distinctive aspect of Starlink’s service lies in the vast number of satellites it deploys, operating in close geospatially proximity.
Traditionally, satellite internet services have relied on cable technology, such as fibre optics, for data transmission. However, Starlink’s network operates on a tried-and-tested satellite internet service technology, providing users with download speeds ranging from 25 to 220 Mbps, with a significant majority experiencing speeds surpassing 100 Mbps. Meanwhile, upload speeds typically range between 5 and 20 Mbps.
Also, any country where Starlink is offered can order Starlink Roam. Regional plans are available for use on the continent where users join up while global plans are accessible in every nation in the the entire world.
Side-by-side comparison according to Transhumanica
|AST SpaceMobile ($ASTS)||Starlink by SpaceX (Private)|
|Target Markets||Cellular Broadband||Residential Broadband, Mobility|
|User Hardware||Existing Cell Phone||Antenna Terminal|
|Hardware Cost to User||$0||$599|
|Speed / Latency||>35 Mbps / <30 ms||~100 Mbps / <30 ms|
(200 Mbps peak)
|Primary Go-to-Market Strategy||Super Wholesaler to Telcos||Direct to Consumer|
|Distribution Partners||Vodafone, AT&T, Rakuten, Telefonica, Telestra, Indosat, Telecom Argentina, Tigo, Liberty LatAm||NA|
|Spectrum for User CommunicationsPropagation = Lower is Better|
Throughput = Higher is Better
Low Band (700-950 MHz)
Midband (1.7-2.2 GHz)
C Band (3.7-4.2 GHz)
|V and Ku Bands|
|Commercial Service (Est)||2023||2021|
|Complete Launch Date||2028||2029|
|Main Investors||Rakuten, Vodafone, American Tower, Samsung, Cicernos||SpaceX|
|Design / Manufacturing Partners||Nokia, TSMC, NEC, Safran, Dialog Semiconductor, NanoAvionics||Starlink|
Fierce Competition for Starlink in the Kenyan Market
The entry of both Starlink and AST SpaceMobile into the Kenyan market signals the intensification of competition in the satellite internet market. Safaricom’s collaboration with AST SpaceMobile highlights its commitment to expanding its broadband services by leveraging satellite-based solutions.
Last year, Safaricom became the first telco to launch a 5G network in Kenya. Although Airtel recently joined the party, Safaricom still maintains an unassailable dominance over the East African country.
So, 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.
Playing on their own uniqueness, Starlink’s technological approach and impressive speed offerings position them as a formidable player. Kenyan consumers stand to benefit from this competition, as it will likely lead to improved services, increased coverage, and more competitive pricing.
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.
In the end, it all depends on the customers and companies to adapt to the new trends. As the market evolves, consumers are looking forward to a more robust and reliable internet experience, enabling them to connect, communicate, and thrive in an increasingly digital world.