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NCC Approves Elon Musk’s Starlink License To Operate In Nigeria

At the weekend, the world’s richest man, Elon Musk, announced via his twitter handle that the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) has issued Internet Service Provider (ISP) licence to his Internet Firm, Starlink, to operate internet service in Nigeria.

With the approval and issuance of licence, Starlink Internet Limited which is operated by SpaceX, will be trading as Starlink Internet Services Nigeria Limited.

Aside the ISP licence, NCC also issued Starlink with additional two licences, while three other licences are still pending, waiting for approval from the NCC Board.

The first three licences include: Internet Service Provider (ISP) operational Licence; International Data Access (IDA) operational licence; and Full Gateway Operational Licence. The other three licences include: Sales and Installation Major (S&I- Major) Licence; Gateway Earth Station (GES) Network Frequency Licence per Gateway the company is to build; and Very Small Aperture Terminal (VSAT) Network Frequency Licence.

Information gathered from the Commission showed that the regulator secured approval of the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy for SpaceX to be issued with relevant licences to enable the company to provide services in Nigeria.

Further to this, SpaceX has forwarded applications for the six licences to the Commission and which are at various stages of processing, before the ISP licence and two other licences were issued last week by NCC.
Starlink is global internet firm that offers satellite internet access coverage to 32 countries. It also provides high-speed, low-latency broadband internet across the globe.

Starlink enables video calls, online gaming, streaming, and other high data rate activities that historically have not been possible with satellite internet. Users also have the option to take Starlink with them via the portability feature of Starlink.

In May last year, Starlink’s Market Access Director for Africa, Ryan Goodnight along with SpaceX consultant, Levin Born paid a visit to the NCC where they expressed interest to obtain a license to operate the satellite internet in the country.

Prior to the visit, the NCC and the space company have been discussing the issue virtually before approval for a physical meeting was granted by the NCC.

After SpaceX representatives provided an overview of its plans, expectations, licensing requests, and deployment phases, the Executive Vice-Chairman, NCC, Prof. Umar Danbatta, represented by the Executive Commissioner, Technical Services, NCC, Ubale Maska, then promised them that the NCC would work on necessary modalities to ensure that it balances the need for healthy competition vis-a-vis the entry of new technologies, in order to protect all industry stakeholders.

The Game Changer

The entrance of Musk’s firm into Nigeria’s internet service market in Nigeria has been described by the federal government and industry stakeholders as the game changer that would provide ubiquitous internet access to Nigerians at a faster speed and expected to be much cheaper, when compared with the current cost of internet service delivery that is put at N288 per 1GB.

Satellite internet, though more expensive to deploy, when compared with terrestrial fibre optic cable deployment, offers faster penetration and ubiquitous access, penetrating even to the remotest part of any community, where fibre optic cannot easily reach. This means that Starlink would be able to offer internet services in rural communities, thus providing deeper internet and broadband penetration in rural communities, at cheaper cost.

Satellite internet would eliminate the additional cost of laying fibre optics broadband cable and digging up of roads in urban and rural communities for fibre cable laying, thus making internet service a lot more cheaper to deploy and access.

FG’s Excitement

Pleased with the coming of Starlink to Nigeria, the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Dr. Isa Ibrahim Pantami, said the new satellite service offerings from Starlink, would make broadband penetration much easier.

He said Nigeria has been encountering challenges such as the issues of right of way (RoW), vandalism of infrastructure, among others over the years but noted that the current administration has significantly addressed the challenges, and that Starlink will further overcome the challenges, through its satellite.

“With satellite infrastructure, broadband penetration could be much easier and by implication, it would make broadband services much cheaper. In 2019, based on a report I received from NCC, the average price of 1GB of data was N1100 compared with another most recent report from the Commission has indicated that broadband has been reduced to N288 per 1GB.

“This is less than 30 per cent of what we used to pay. This is an indication that the prices are coming down and with the Starlink satellite, we do hope that it will continue to come down and by implication, it will support our economic development,” Pantami said.

Linking the coming of Starlink with Nigeria’s National Policy on 5G, Pantami said: “With 5G policy in place and the satellite that we have, this will support our security institution to leverage on emerging technologies such as Robotics, Artificial Intelligence (AI), Augmented Reality, Virtual Reality, Internet of Things (IoT), and many more to handle security challenges and to facilitate their activities in control of communication, computing, information gathering, intelligence gathering, surveillance and reconnaissance.”

He said all these operations can easily be conducted with broadband from space, 5G technology in place and other emerging technologies and will go a long way in supporting Nigerian country in two ways of fast-tracking economic development and handling security challenges.

“Based on our discussion with Starlink and SpaceX particularly in Poland in December, 2021 and also my engagement with the EVC of NCC, our plan is to achieve 70 per cent broadband penetration by 2025. But with the satellite, we could be able to achieve even more as we would be more ambitious now in order to ride on our previous achievements,” the Minister said.

Stakeholders’ View

Some stakeholders who are licenced ISP operators welcomed Starlink, saying its entrance would bring about competition. “Yes we are pleased with the coming of another ISP into the Nigerian space, especially when it is coming through the firm of the world’s richest man, Elon Musk. What this means is better market competition because the market is big enough to accommodate all ISPs,” one of the licenced ISPs said in anonymity.

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