Billionaire Elon Musk’s SpaceX will partner with e-commerce firm Jumia Technologies to expand its satellite broadband services in Africa.
Jumia, which counts Pernod Ricard and Goldman Sachs Group as investors, will sell Starlink’s satellite terminals and other kits in some African nations, starting with Nigeria in coming weeks, Jumia chief commercial officer Hisham El Gabry said in an interview.
Jumia will benefit from the agreement by having the first sales and distribution deal of the kits on the continent.
“We have seen Starlink do these type of deals in Southeast Asia and South America, and now Africa will also have the opportunity to access the fast-speed internet services,” he said. “The plan is to start selling through our sites and agents in Nigeria this month, and then Kenya.”
The partnership with Jumia will help Starlink sell terminals in areas that lack formal addresses and city mapping. The portable terminals that connect to low-Earth orbit satellites could help deliver broadband services in the continent that has the lowest internet penetration in the world.
While telecommunications network operators such as MTN Group and Vodacom Group have been the main providers of broadband in Africa, telecoms providers find it difficult to roll out infrastructure in remote regions.
Big tech companies have tried to provide high-speed internet in Africa through innovative ideas, but failed, reverting back to fibre and undersea cables.
Meta Platforms’ Facebook tried to build a gigantic drone to provide high-altitude connectivity on the continent that was later grounded. Google — through Project Loon — attempted something similar with helium-filled balloons, before scrapping the project two years ago.
Musk’s network of thousands of small satellites that communicate through the user terminals appears to have a better chance to connect people on the vast continent. Still, the cost of a standard Starlink terminal of US$557 (R10 500) in Nigeria may be a deterrent.
“We had to establish our own business models and transportation network, even mapping to a certain extent when we started building an African e-commerce business,”said El Gabry. “So we have the needed experience in navigating the retail and merchandise landscape in Africa.”
Jumia plans to eventually sell Starlink’s products in the 11 African countries in which it operates, El Gabry said.
Starlink confirmed the deal without adding any additional details.