In a move that could reshape the telecommunications landscape in Nigeria, SpaceX has announced its plans to launch the “Starlink Direct to Cell” service, bringing satellite-based connectivity directly to mobile phones in the country. This development is poised to challenge legacy telcos like MTN and Glo, marking a significant step towards closing the digital divide in Nigeria.
According to SpaceX’s recent advertisement, the “Starlink Direct to Cell” service is slated for rollout between 2024 and 2025. The service will be introduced in stages, with text (SMS) messaging available in 2024, followed by voice calls and data capabilities in the subsequent year. Additionally, an Internet of Things (IoT) service is expected to be available in 2025.
One of the most intriguing aspects of this announcement is that the “Starlink Direct to Cell” service will work seamlessly with 4G and 5G-enabled smartphones, leaving 2G and 3G devices out of the equation. This exclusion raises questions about how this may impact users with older phone models, which are still prevalent across Nigeria and other African nations.
For LTE phone users, SpaceX promises uninterrupted connectivity across the globe, a challenge that traditional telcos have often struggled to deliver. To make this direct-to-cell offering possible, SpaceX has equipped its satellites with an advanced eNodeB modem onboard, effectively acting as a spaceborne cell tower, thus enabling network integration akin to standard roaming partners.
Notably, this innovative service aims to address the issue of poor connectivity in remote areas, which is a common problem in Nigeria and many African countries.
Starlink, however, is not without its challenges. The cost of entry remains a significant hurdle for many Nigerians. The economic situation has diminished the average citizen’s purchasing power, as essential goods and services have become increasingly expensive. Starlink’s current hardware kit, priced at N299,000, and a monthly subscription charge of N38,000 may be a luxury that is out of reach for most.
Moreover, the service has faced criticism for its performance during adverse weather conditions, with users reporting poor internet connectivity during rain showers, a concern that must be addressed to win over consumers.
In the fiercely competitive Nigerian telecommunications market, where SIM cards from established telcos like MTN and Airtel are offered at significantly lower prices or even for free, SpaceX may need to further reduce the cost of its hardware kit to become a major threat to the industry leaders, including MTN, GLO, 9mobile, and Airtel.
As the economic landscape evolves, setting prices that align with the affordability of the average Nigerian is paramount for Starlink’s success in Nigeria. Reducing the price of its hardware kit would send a powerful signal to potential customers, demonstrating its commitment to providing accessible and reliable connectivity to the nation.