STATE-OWNED fixed telephony operator TelOne says there is scope to work with Elon Musk’s Starlink satellite internet amid indications that the new low-cost network may disrupt the country’s multi-million-dollar industry, a company official has said.
Telecoms experts say the launch of SpaceX’s Starlink project in 2019 marked the start of a new era in global connectivity.
While Zimbabwe’s internet penetration has been rising over the past decade, the country continues to have low penetration rates due to several factors such as high costs in deploying infrastructure in remote areas, pricey devices beyond the reach of many, frequent power outages and high internet tariffs.
Official figures show that there were 5.74 million internet users in Zimbabwe at the start of 2023, when internet penetration stood at 34,8%.
A total of 14.08 million cellular mobile connections were active in Zimbabwe in early 2023, a figure which represents nearly 85% of the country’s population.
TeOne chief operating officer Joseph Machiva told The NewsHawks on the sidelines of the company’s social corporate investment event recently held at Harare Sports Club that the country’s telecoms sector may undergo a major revolution should the authorities grant Starlink a licence to operate.
“Definitely it will be a disrupter to the current status quo not because current operators are overpricing or anything like that, but it’s a slightly different technology from what we are currently using in the satellite space,” Machiva said.
“The way we view it is we need to partner with them somehow. We already offer satellite services, we do not have a satellite in orbit. We work with partners. Currently we are working with Utelsat, we push their equipment through our customers, so that is the same thing we want to do with Starlink. So once they are licenced and operating in Zimbabwe, we can then distribute for them using our channels of distribution which we have already established in the country and, off course, we will have some customers that would want to swap out equipment and take on Starlink.”
Recently, Starlink announced that the planned availability of its satellite internet service in Zimbabwe is 2023 pending regulatory approval. Any new telecommunications player in Zimbabwe has to go through the Postal and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe to get registered and licensed.
Starlink is the world’s first and largest satellite constellation using low earth orbit to deliver broadband internet capable of supporting streaming, online gaming and video calling among other services.
Experts say most satellite internet services come from geostationary satellites that orbit the planet and, as a result, the round-trip data time between the user and the user — also known as latency — is high, making it nearly impossible to support streaming.
Starlink, on the other hand, is a constellation of thousands of satellites that orbit the planet much closer to earth and cover the globe and, because the company’s satellite are in a low orbit, latency is lower.