Starlink to discontinue roaming in unlicensed areas: Cameroon, South Africa affected

Starting April 30, Starlink will restrict roaming in Cameroon, South Africa and other unlicensed regions.

Starlink to discontinue roaming in unlicensed areas: Cameroon, South Africa affected

Starlink, SpaceX's satellite internet provider, is cracking down on unlicensed locations.

Starting April 30, global and regional roaming will be unavailable in countries like Cameroon and South Africa where Starlink hasn't secured licensing. While the company assures users in an email, "We are working as quickly as possible to obtain the necessary regulatory be allowed to offer services," this move effectively cuts off a workaround for those who purchased Starlink kits from licensed regions like Nigeria for use in unauthorised areas.

This move comes on the heels of a Wall Street Journal (WSJ) report raising concerns. The report alleged that Starlink satellite internet devices are being used by Russian fighters in Ukraine and paramilitary forces in Sudan.

Also Read: Operators try to end Sudan's months-long telecoms blackout

The investigation claimed a shadowy supply chain exists, facilitating backroom deals in Africa, Southeast Asia, and the UAE. This chain allegedly put thousands of Starlink devices in the hands of potential adversaries and accused war criminals. The report further stated many users connect via Starlink's roaming feature after dealers register the hardware in authorised countries.

"It seems to be Starlink's reaction to [the WSJ investigation]," Rebecca Enonchong, a Cameroonian tech entrepreneur said in a post on X. However, neither SpaceX nor its founder Elon Musk has publicly commented on the report.

Beyond the WSJ report, some African nations are taking action against Starlink. In Zimbabwe, the service was suspended last week after the country's telecoms regulator deemed it illegal. Users and vendors previously faced threats of arrest, and a Chinese mining company using Starlink was fined and had its equipment seized in February.

"What is sad in this whole Starlink debate is that in most places where it is approved, it's not the best and least expensive solution, especially not for businesses," Enonchong noted. "But in places like Cameroon where internet service is mediocre at best, Starlink emerges as this incredible savio[u]r! People experienced [the] internet as it's supposed to be for the first time!"

While Starlink service is expected in Cameroon by 2025, according to the availability map, the launch date remains unclear for other African nations including South Africa, South Sudan, Mali, Algeria, Libya, and Egypt.

Get weekly insights on tech startups and VC in Africa