Advanced Television

Starlink’s approvals start flowing

October 9, 2023

By Chris Forrester

Starlink, Elon Musk’s broadband-by-satellite service, is still missing some major potential markets. A few days ago, news emerged that India could be close to granting Starlink permission to operate. But a new study suggests there’s still some way to go for Starlink.

Data from analysts at Payload says that 2024 will see Starlink services start in more than 65 extra countries and representing some 1.6 billion people. Not all of these will generate major numbers of likely subscribers given well-established telco and other urban connections being readily available. But many potential subscribers living in rural and even suburban locations are either completely unserved or under-served.

Poorer sections of these communities must also be ruled out as potential subscribers.

While markets such as India and Turkey might well generate solid support for Starlink, a nation such as Israel – with service promised for next year – is generally accepted as being well served by existing broadband suppliers.

The same argument could apply to South Korea – also expected to go ‘live’ in 2024 – and seen as being well connected.

But there are major target markets that could prove to be extremely lucrative. These include Saudi Arabia (37 million population), Thailand (72 million), Vietnam (99 million) and Pakistan (240 million). The problem is that each of these four markets have yet to give permission to Starlink to operate. Indeed, it is unlikely that some will ever give permission and certainly seeing Saudi Arabia and Pakistan granting permission to operate is questionable.

Payload says that in these nations where regulatory approval is pending there’s a potential 1.98 billion people.

One the positive side there are some attractive markets, including Egypt (113 million), Bangladesh (173 million) and Indonesia (278 million). Each of these three is expected to see Starlink services on offer in 2024.

While exact monthly pricing across all markets is less clear, SpaceX often sells Starlink subscriptions to developing countries (such as the Philippines or Malaysia) for ~$45 a month. At that level, the price point is high for a nation that more typically pays ~$10/month for fibre broadband.

Payload’s analysts says that India represents a major potential market, noting: “Despite rapid growth, India remains a developing country, with a staggering ~40 percent of its population without internet access, often due to poor fiber broadband coverage. Even those who do have internet access are subject to shutdowns—sometimes imposed by the Indian government for political reasons, such as to prevent people from criticizing the government or organizing protests.”

Payload adds: “Sanjay Bhargava, a former Starlink executive, said in 2021 that the company was aiming to sell 200,000 terminals in India within its first nine months of operations.”

One positive growth area for Starlink is the Cruise industry. Last week the Holland America Line (owned by Carnival Corp.), with 11 cruise ships in its fleet, said that it was more than halfway through updating its vessels with Starlink connectivity. Some of its ships carry 2,650 passengers.

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