Rwanda has become the first country in the region to offer Starlink internet service, a global satellite undertaking by the American company SpaceX. But, Starlink aside, it is a measure of the country’s ambition that it has filed for orbital slots to put in space its own separate constellation of over 300,000 satellites. Nigeria is the only other African country offering the Starlink service so far. The service’s availability map shows more countries in the continent are set to be connected later this year, including most East African Community countries. The service is already being lauded as a potential game-changer in the continent. It could complement ongoing satellite initiatives under national space projects around the continent. Rwanda, for instance, is among 14 African countries with satellites orbiting the earth. RwaSat-1, the country’s mini-satellite, has been in low earth orbit since 2019 monitoring and submitting agricultural data from space. With data in hand, the high-speed internet Starlink avails could enhance collaboration between Rwandan scientists, regional and government institutions and industries to further precision agriculture. Precision agriculture is the science of improving crop yields and assisting management decisions using high-technology sensor and analysis tools. Starlink holds a monopoly but is only the tip of a growing trend to avail fast internet speeds. Companies such as Iridium, Boeing, Amazon, OneWeb, and Telesat, are working to make satellite connectivity more accessible through technologies similar to Starlink. The role fast internet can play in the digital economy is well acknowledged. International Finance Corporation estimates show that a 10 per cent increase in mobile internet penetration increases GDP per capita by 2.5 per cent — up to USD180 billion to Africa’s economy by 2025, according to some projections. So far about 50 countries around the world are using Starlink. But it is the superpowers falling over themselves to develop similar systems of their own that perhaps best suggest the strategic importance of the technology. It is perhaps also no surprise this has to do with the military. Credit for this to some extent goes to the war in Ukraine—how it has given Ukrainian forces an edge over the Russians. Previously, as The Economist explains, satellite links were largely reserved for senior officers, headquarters, and drone pilots, with the bulk of lower-level communication. Starlink means frontline troops can sling around videos, images, and messages in real-time, even as they advance beyond the reach of mobile networks. That provides the sort of tactical agility vital to modern warfare. Another crucial aspect is resistance to attack. Starlink has, so far, survived attempts to jam or hack it. Russians are known for this sort of thing, but they have completely failed. Some of the key reasons for this is the internet speed that the overwhelming number of SpaceX satellites. Located close to the Earth at about 550km from the planet’s surface it takes a shorter time for the signal to reach a Starlink user compared to older versions of satellites located more than 35,000km from Earth. This means that traditional satellites are not as reliable because of their slow, weak signals. But the clincher is in the numbers. Whereas traditional satellite networks, made up of small numbers of big, complicated satellites, are vulnerable to anti-satellite missiles, Starlink is not. The number of satellites, and the speed with which SpaceX can replace them, make trying to shoot them down futile. The firm averaged around a launch a week in 2022. As I write, it has already launched around 4000 Starlink satellites. These, according to The Economist, are more satellites in orbit than all other companies and countries combined. So far only the United States, courtesy of SpaceX, has the system. Because of this and the military and other advantages many countries want sovereign systems of their own – China, Russia, Britain, and the European Union, are all in the running to develop their own versions of Starlink. This is a good thing. But while it may offer alternatives to Starlink in the long run, perhaps the competition might help lower the cost of access for personal use by the average consumer in the continent. The service is not cheap, though it may be affordable to institutions and corporate organisations. A researcher took the example of Nigeria to compare costs in Africa last month between FiberOne, a broadband internet provider in the country, and Starlink. Installation fee for FiberOne with internet speeds of up to 500Mbps was N32, 231 (about US$70), and the monthly subscription cost of around N100,000 (US$220). To install Starlink in Nigeria came to about N276,000 (US$599) one-off payment for the kit and about N198,000 (US$43) monthly subscription. The Nigerian Starlink installation and subscription costs are similar to those in Rwanda.