Safaricom gears up for satellite data services


Safaricom PLC Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Peter Ndegwa at a past event. FILE PHOTO | POOL

Safaricom is set to launch satellite Internet services at a time when Elon Musk’s Starlink is also preparing to go live with a similar offering in Kenya.

Satellite Internet connections have the potential to shake up traditional telecoms services, which are based on infrastructure that has left many areas without coverage, especially rural parts of the country.

Safaricom will offer the service through a partnership with Starlink’s rival AST SpaceMobile, which has signed agreements with the telco’s ultimate parent firm Vodafone Group Plc.

Vodafone is one of the investors in AST SpaceMobile.

“AST SpaceMobile’s BlueWalker 3 satellite underwent basic functionality testing in 2022, prior to a formal trial in the second quarter of 2023, in partnership with Vodacom and Safaricom in Kenya,” Safaricom’s intermediate parent firm Vodacom Group Limited says in its latest annual report.

“After successful completion of the trial, AST SpaceMobile will scale up their satellite deployments in partnership with Vodacom to provide ubiquitous communications to 4G devices across Africa and beyond.” Starlink, on the other hand, had indicated its satellite-based services would be available starting in the quarter that ended last month.

Texas-based AST SpaceMobile is building the first space-based mobile broadband network accessible directly by standard mobile phones.

The space-based data services will add to telcos’ current offerings, which are delivered through fibre optic cables, Wi-Fi and cellular networks.

Safaricom and other Vodafone affiliates will share revenue with AST SpaceMobile on a 50/50 basis, with the parties agreeing to maintain mutual exclusivity in their markets to ensure the success of the partnership.

AST SpaceMobile’s operations span building a satellite constellation, which is a space-based cellular broadband network that allows existing, unmodified smartphones to connect to satellites in areas with coverage gaps.

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