The internet service provider market in Zim just got another potential player by way of Elon Musk’s Starlink. The service on paper looks like it’s going to democratise internet services (somewhat) because it relies on a net of low orbit satellites. This means that anyone anywhere in the world with the kit can get a satellite internet connection.
At face value, this looks like it will blow ZOL, TelOne and Utande right out of the water. But there are a few hurdles the service has to overcome to challenge the traditional players.
This isn’t necessarily a hang-up because by its own admission POTRAZ is looking to increase competition in the data sphere. The authority last week spoke of how it wanted to make the mobile data space a lot more competitive in order to drive down costs.
I am sure POTRAZ is looking for the same when it comes to ISPs even though it doesn’t have as much sway when it comes to Internet Service Providers. Starlink coming in would be a welcome addition but that’s if the folks at the ISP approach POTRAZ in order to register.
Yesterday we reported on Starlink approaching the Independent Communication Authority of South Africa (ICASA). And with preorders open in SA, it seems as though everything went swimmingly. However, for those in Zim looking to use the service (using the following term loosely) legally, Starlink will have to approach the local authority.
Starlink will serve a niche market for a good while
We all know what happens when there’s a new service that hits the market in Zimbabwe. It will be reserved for those who can afford or are enthusiasts for some time. This sentiment was echoed (in part) by Ofentse Dazela, the pricing director at Africa Analysis when Starlink preorders opened in South Africa.
“My view is that this new service will only become a niche service in South Africa.”via IOL
Dazela did however go on to say that this service may help deliver internet to places in Africa that don’t have adequate mobile data coverage. Zimbabwe is one of those places that doesn’t have adequate mobile data coverage or consistent service delivery. However, only those in those underserved areas with the money to buy the kit for US$500 and then the US$99 a month can get it whenever the devices start shipping.
“It’s cheaper than VSAT though…”
This is true VSAT installation fees for ZOL, Telone and Utande are all pretty pricy. Worse still the amount of money you’ll have to pay for data packages. But the accessibility angle is still the problem. You will have to fall within the grey area of just shy of being able to afford VSAT but you can manage Starlink. I don’t see many people falling into this category.
What of those in the cities?
Well… the only disadvantage Starlink has to the traditional players is that it is cheaper to get ZOL, Utande or TelOne fibre, ADSL (for TelOne) and LTE. The initial price point of US$500 for the kit is pretty high where ZOL for example will charge you around US$66 dollars for a modem and free installation for fibre.
The only place where Starlink makes sense is the US$99 a month for what appears to be uncapped internet. You’d be hard-pressed to find even an LTE service in Zim that charges something that reasonable. However the initial price point is I think a significant barrier to entry.
As much as it will be affordable down the road, shelling out US$500 is painful. I can see may people sticking with the local ISPs in this respect even though service is sometimes questionable.