Amid the ongoing brawl between South Africa’s telecoms regulator and Elon Musk’s satellite internet service over licensing, OneWeb, Starlink’s closest rival, is seizing the opportunity to speed up its launch in the market and possibly outdo the competition.
OneWeb, owned by satellite operator Eutelsat, is set to introduce its low-earth orbit (LEO) broadband service in South Africa, its first market in the continent. It looks to offer high-speed, low-latency internet, with a focus on areas where conventional connectivity is unreliable or absent.
OneWeb would be providing its service through local partnerships. For trials that started in 2021 and are now nearing completion, the company has since partnered with Airtel Africa.
Per its claims, the service would fully cover Airtel’s footprints in South Africa by the end of the year and expand to 35 more African countries in the long term.
This development comes hot on the heels of a spat that sees SA’s telecommunications authority, the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (Icasa), mount pressure on Starlink’s operations in the country. Yesterday, Icasa declared the use of Starlink illegal, reemphasising to customers that it is not authorised to offer internet services.
Though Starlink has successfully launched in a handful of other countries, it is yet to officially do the same in South Africa, putting it at the mercy of Icasa, which seeks to cajole its parent firm SpaceX into complying with its conditions for licensing.
Ever since, Starlink kits have been purchased indirectly, as customers who chose the service over existing ones scrambled to get them regardless of the regulatory situation. The huge demand brought in a rush which somewhat reinforces South Africa as the continent’s biggest IT market.
OneWeb seeks to cash in on the surge in demand for high-speed internet. Its first satellite network portal in Africa is located in Hartebeesthoek, South Africa, reportedly nearing completion. Other portals are currently being set up in Senegal, Ghana, and Mauritius.
While there’s no telling whether the service has obtained licensing—which involves registering locally and ceding 30% in equity to historically disadvantaged groups (HDGs)—it seems OneWeb is already in the good books.
According to Mybroadband, the platform has appealed to business sectors operating in the country’s remote areas, including players in retail healthcare, government, mining, agriculture, tourism, and hospitality.
OneWeb’s entry into South Africa also comes at a time when internet connectivity is entering a new phase in the market, with the rollout of next-gen services to meet demand from middle and upper-class citizens.
Founded in the U.K. in 2012, OneWeb is trying to beam ridiculously fast internet to the Earth with a network of low-orbit satellites at an altitude of around 750 miles. Though it requires only 588 for global coverage, the company plans to unveil 648 satellites in total.