Starlink roaming price pain

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Starlink’s recent price hikes on roaming plans have pushed the service’s cost to well over double similar fibre-to-the-home (FTTH) and fixed-5G package prices in South Africa, except if users have their registered address in Nigeria.

Starlink’s main purpose is to provide high-speed connectivity in remote areas where other forms of broadband perform poorly or are non-existent.

For the vast majority of households with access to FTTH and fixed-5G, Starlink is not an ideal solution.

In general, FTTH offers the fastest and most reliable broadband service. It also has the lowest latency, which is critical for applications like competitive online gaming and videoconferencing.

Fixed-5G can provide fibre-like performance, including triple-digit download speeds and single-digit latency.

However, performance can vary greatly depending on a user’s proximity to a 5G-enabled tower and obstructions like trees or buildings.

In MyBroadband’s own tests, we’ve found that Starlink Roaming can regularly provide download speeds over 100Mbps and uploads of around 20Mbps.

Where it cannot yet contend with FTTH and 5G is latency.

Starlink does not yet have any ground stations with backhaul Internet connectivity in South Africa.

Its network relies on inter-satellite laser links, which relay signals to each other until the signal can be directed to a ground station in another country.

That means Starlink latency in South Africa is typically around 100ms to 200ms. Even in countries with ground stations, best-case latencies are currently around 20ms to 40ms, similar to LTE.

Starlink dish on a shack in a rural area in Mozambique. Credit: Jan van Gerve

Starlink Roaming briefly beat fibre prices

Starlink can be an alternative to fixed-LTE and fixed-5G in locations where cellular networks don’t perform well and no FTTH is available.

Its roaming prices also competed very well with FTTH and fixed-5G for many months since launching in African countries at various periods in 2023.

For example, a Starlink Roaming user in South Africa who had a registered service address in Zambia paid ZMW1,000, about R710 per month.

That price was lower than Afrihost’s 100Mbps FTTH prices on three major fibre operators — Vumatel, Openserve, and Frogfoot.

That meant people with Starlink roaming in rural areas could get cheaper uncapped 100Mbps Internet prices than those in the cities.

This is astounding, considering the higher costs associated with operating a satellite broadband service for very specific and volume-limited target markets.

However, Starlink recently hiked the prices of roaming packages in most African countries, which has led to prices more than doubling in most cases.

For new customers, a roaming subscription in Zambia now costs ZMW2,500, or about R1,000 more expensive than the previous price. Existing customers will start paying the new prices in August 2024.

The only exception is Nigeria, where the roaming price remains N49,000. Due to the significant weakening of the Naira in 2023, this works out to just R613 per month.

While Starlink Roaming packages in most African countries no longer compete with FTTH or fixed-5G on pricing, they still offer substantially better speeds and fair usage policies (FUPs) than older satellite Internet products.

The table below compares Starlink roaming in South Africa with fibre-to-the-home and fixed-5G packages with similar performance.

Starlink Roaming vs FTTH and fixed-5G in South Africa
Package Download/Upload speed Hardware costs and fair usage policy Monthly price
Starlink Roaming via Nigeria 100/20Mbps N440,000 (R5,538) for router and dish
No FUP
N49,000 (R613)
Afrihost FTTH on Frogfoot 120/60Mbps Free-to-use router included
No FUP
R757
Afrihost FTTH on Openserve 100/50Mbps Free-to-use router included
No FUP
R797
Afrihost FTTH on Vumatel 100/50Mbps Free-to-use router included
No FUP
R797
Afrihost 100Mbps Uncapped MTN fixed-5G 100Mbps Router for R1,499
After first 1TB consumption: Throttled to 1Mbps
R849
Afrihost FTTH on MetroFibre 250/250Mbps Free-to-use router included
No FUP
R897
Axxess Pro+ MTN fixed-5G Up to 500Mbps Router for R1,499
After first 1TB consumption: Throttled to 2Mbps
R899
RainOne fixed-5G 100Mbps 100Mbps+ Free-to-use router and two mobile 4G SIMs included
No FUP
R995
Supersonic Home 5G Premium Up to 200Mbps Router for R1,499
After first 1TB consumption: Throttled to 1Mbps
R999
Starlink Roaming via Zambia 100/20Mbps ZMW8,000 (R5,651)  for router and dish
No FUP
ZMW2,500 (R1,772)
Starlink Roaming via Rwanda 100/20Mbps RWF460,000 (R6,521) for router and dish
No FUP
RWF128,000 (R1,828)
Starlink Roaming via Malawi 100/20Mbps MWK600,000 (R6,451) for router and dish dish for
No FUP
MK170,000 (R1,845)
Starlink Roaming via Eswatini 100/20Mbps R6,800 for router and dish
No FUP
R1,900
Starlink Roaming via Mozambique 100/20Mbps MZN22,000 (R6,407) for router and dish
No FUP
MZN2,000 (R2,134)

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