Kenyan telco, Safaricom, plans to launch satellite Internet services to compete with SpaceX, a US-based space exploration company, preparing to launch its offering, Starlink, in the country.
The telco will collaborate with AST SpaceMobile, a Starlink competitor, to offer this service.
Safaricom intends to use AST SpaceMobile's satellite Internet to improve its broadband services, including Wi-Fi, cellular networks, and fibre optic cables.
AST SpaceMobile, a US-based company, is developing a space-oriented network that will provide satellite-based Internet access to remote locations.
It uses a constellation of satellites that can communicate directly with common 4G smartphones to provide low-cost broadband connectivity to rural and remote areas.
Consequently, it will be the first company to enable smartphones to connect to the space-based broadband network.
AST SpaceMobile's prototype satellite, Bluewalker 3, underwent initial testing in 2022 and is set for an official trial in Kenya later in the year.
Safaricom and other African operators in the Vodacom group will participate in the trial. The trial will use 200 satellites across 49 African, European, and Caribbean countries.
For context, Vodacom and Vodafone are shareholders in Safaricom.
Following the official trial, AST SpaceMobile plans to expand its satellite deployments in collaboration with Vodacom to provide continuous communications to 4G devices across Africa and beyond.
Meanwhile, Elon Musk-owned Starlink has launched in several African nations, including Nigeria, Rwanda, and Mozambique.
In Kenya, SpaceX stated that its satellite-based services would be available beginning in the second quarter of 2023, but it has yet to launch.
Starlink has applied for a licence to operate in Kenya, but it’s not clear when the service will be available or how much it will cost.
However, the company’s website shows that the service costs KSh 6500 per month plus a KSh 89,000 setup fee for the equipment, which includes a small satellite dish and a Wi-Fi router.
Further, the entry of Safaricom into the satellite Internet market presents a significant challenge for Starlink.
Due to its collaboration with the mobile phone-focused AST SpaceMobile, Safaricom may be able to maintain its market dominance in Kenya.
However, there may be some challenges with Safaricom's satellite Internet service, such as the price, which may be too high for some customers who are on a tight budget and rely on inexpensive data bundles and free public Wi-Fi hotspots.