more bandwidth

Elon Musk: Gateway to the African satellite market?

By Quentin Velluet

Posted on July 21, 2023 09:45

Elon Musk
Billionaire Elon Musk has African ambitions. (AP/SIDA/Hannibal Hanschke)

Elon Musk’s Starlink has partnered Africa Mobile Networks, a specialist in rural telecom masts, to provide Nigerians with faster internet.

Africa Mobile Networks (AMN), a British telecom-tower operator that specialises in coverage of rural areas in Africa, has signed a partnership with Starlink, the low earth orbit (LEO) satellite internet provider owned by Elon Musk’s SpaceX.

The agreement, signed last week, initially allows AMN to exploit Starlink’s connection capacities in Nigeria – which was the first African country to grant a licence to Starlink. AMN intends to extending the alliance to other countries if this first experiment is successful.

Conversion to 4G

“Low earth orbit satellites offer more bandwidth and gigabytes of data than other solutions at a similar cost, which is important to meet the demands of customers and regulators, i.e., a gradual conversion to 3G and 4G, and eventually 5G,” says Michael Darcy, the British founder and CEO of AMN.

Already present in 13 African countries and Panama, AMN hopes to launch further operations in the Central African Republic, Kenya, Madagascar, Niger, South Africa and Uganda. Starlink, meanwhile, announced on 19 July that it was now active in Kenya, but, subject to obtaining licences, its geographical footprint in Africa is currently limited to three other countries on the continent: Nigeria, Mozambique and Rwanda.

Intelsat as a long-standing partner

Historically backed by its shareholders Meta and the European satellite company Intelsat, AMN says its new partnership will not short-circuit the relationship it has cultivated with Intelsat. Intelsat itself does not offer LEO solutions, but it does have a distribution agreement with Amazon-backed Kuiper for solutions from OneWeb, one of Starlink’s main competitors.

Founded in 2013, AMN targets more than 5,000 functioning towers by the end of 2023. The company has simplified its business model, integrating the costs of building, managing and maintaining tower networks in return for a flat fee. It has maintained profitability thanks to cheaper logistics and smaller towers, which are more economical and quicker to install. AMN has raised more than $100m from around 20 investors since it was founded.

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