Nigeria just became the first African country to gain SpaceX’s Starlink satellite internet. The internet service relies on a constellation of satellites in low Earth orbit that connect with user terminals and stations on the ground to provide low latency and high speed internet.
This may seem a bit confusing if you remember that Starlink officially made its way to all seven continents last year. While some parts of the African continent had service, this was limited to islands such as Réunion, which is a region of France, and Madeira, which is part of Portugal. Nigeria is the first African country that Starlink is live in.
Nigeria approved the use of Starlink in the country last year, with a ten year license. While they were hoping SpaceX would be able to begin providing service by the end of last year, they are only a month off, and residents from across the country can start to make use of Starlink internet.
Starlink will join the existing connectivity services live in Nigeria, with the regulatory authority saying that there will be a particular emphasis on rural areas and those that do not yet have service.
In addition to strengthening the expansion of the broadband, these services will also constitute support for the government, in improving connectivity throughout the country, and in specific sectors, with emphasis on public education.
Satellite constellations like Starlink are particularly well suited to providing worldwide coverage due to their placement in low Earth orbit. These satellites move overhead quickly, rather than matching the rotation of the Earth to stay over the same place like Geostationary satellites. This requires far more satellites to cover any area, but they also cover the rest of the world as a result. To introduce connectivity to a new region, rather than having to launch a whole new dedicated satellite, they have to introduce only the limited ground infrastructure – the ground stations that the satellites connect to in order to connect with the wider internet.
These ground stations don’t have to be that nearby either. Thanks to the use of laser interconnects, the satellites can communicate with each other, sending data over long distances before it makes it to a ground station. This is how SpaceX’s Starlink has been able to provide service to cruise ships and will continue with planes.