As Zimbabwe’s internet industry gets increasingly competitive, a new VSAT internet service provider, Stargaze, has launched services in the country. In his communication to us, Stargaze Managing Director Chris Catto, said they are looking at rural communities as a key growth area for their company.
Stargaze launched services in December 2012 and are a brand of a company called Afriglobal. According to Catto, their services are supported by the HYLAS 2 satellite which beams Ka-band services over East and Southern Africa among other regions globally.
The actual charges of data services by the company are quite competitive even for urban folk. Offers start from US $52 for 2GB at a download rate down of 512 Kbps for light users, and go all the way up to $930 for 30GB of data at a download speed of 5 Mbps. Top-up bundles of 1GB go for $25. You can check out all the plans here.
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Like other fixed broadband services however, the challenge to have customer adopt the service will be on the setup costs. VSAT particularly is a pricey type of internet to setup. One local provider for example, ZOL, charges an unattractive US $1,800 setup fee, the bulk of which goes into the equipment being supplied the customer. Stargaze charges much less – about a thousand dollars – but it’s a huge cost nonetheless. But where there’s no other option, this may be cost that has to be faced.
Back to the target market; Catto says many rural communities have slow or no connectivity because fibre just hasn’t reached these areas. With satellite the company can provide “instant” connectivity without the need for terrestrial networks he explains. Catto also refers to research that has shown that more than half the population live beyond 25 km from a fibre network and have no access or limited access to the internet.
“It is clear how Ka-band satellite can help to narrow the digital divide much faster than any other technology,” asserted Catto. The relatively new Ka-band, he says, is providing fast and affordable opportunities that didn’t exist with other satellite technologies; C-band and Ku-band that is.
“Zimbabwe has a significant addressable market and satellite broadband can make a genuine difference in empowering businesses and individuals. There is huge opportunity here and the benefits of satellite delivered Ka-band technology are ideal to meet these requirements,” explained Catto.
The company says it has signed up businesses, private individuals and schools since launch. They have also apparently had considerable interest from government organisations particularly around policing and crime prevention. Competition for the company is from about 15 licensed Internet Access Providers and other general internet providers, most of which offer VSAT service also. Stargaze’s low setup rates and significantly low data prices may be the company’s main advantage right now in competing with the other players.