The much-anticipated operation of Space X’s Starlink in Nigeria has commenced, as Nigerians who pre-ordered the company’s hardware have been receiving their orders and enjoying high-speed internet via satellite. The service is available to only those who have dollar cards to make payments for the hardware online.
This means that many Nigerians who want the service will not be able to purchase its hardware, let alone subscribe until the company establishes its physical presence in the country and starts accepting naira for payments.
Aside from the hardware, which costs $600, subscriptions for the service costs $43 a month according to information provided by Starlink.
Suspension of virtual/bank cards: While it would have been easier for many Nigerians to purchase Starlink through the use of virtual dollar cards, the suspension of the service by providers such as Flutterwave and Eversend, has made it difficult.
Many Nigerian banks have also suspended international transactions on naira ATM cards, even though the daily limit on international transactions before the suspension was $20 a day. With these developments, only Nigerians that have dollar cards can order Starlink hardware for now.
Starlink internet speed: According to an Abeokuta-based Bello Gbadebo, who pre-ordered Starlink hardware in October last year and received it in December, he got about 20Mbps on the initial test and it went up to about 240Mbps afterward. Sharing his experience on Twitter, he said:
- “I’m testing from Abeokuta, Ogun State where I’ve struggled greatly with subpar Internet. Even hubs here don’t have the internet bit figured out yet, so it’s a big deal to me that I’m able to get above 200Mbps.
- “I get this speed despite not putting the dish in a very elevated space and having over 30% obstruction which my Starlink considers bad. Wondering if it’ll get any better if placed on the roof.
Gbadebo confirmed that he was able to order the hardware with a dollar card as it is impossible with a naira card.
Starlink and competition in Nigeria: Starlink is expected to compete with the likes of MTN, Airtel, Globacom, 9mobile, and hundreds of Internet Service Providers in Nigeria providing services via different technology, including fibre and satellite. However, with its hardware cost currently fixed at $600 (about N438,000 at the parallel market rate) it is unclear if Starlink will be able to challenge the incumbents who currently offer far lower costs of setup.
- With the rollout of 5G by MTN and the award of 5G licence to Mafab Communications and Airtel, who are expected to also roll out the service any moment from now, competition based on speed will be very stiff for Starlink.
- In terms of subscription, at $43 (about N31,000) Starlink is still within the range being charged by other ISPs in Nigeria.
- Starlink’s most competitive edge in Nigeria will be its availability in rural and unserved areas where the services of the incumbent operators are either poor or unavailable. But pricing is also a factor. It is unclear yet if Starlink will eventually slash its costs to become more competitive in the market.