Ghana to give Starlink the go-ahead; are cable issues the reason?

Ghana to give Starlink the go-ahead; are cable issues the reason?

Is Ghana accelerating the pace of satellite internet licensing in response to the disruption caused by the widely reported subsea cable damage off the coast of West Africa?

Earlier this week Ursula Owusu-Ekuful, Ghana’s minister for communications and digitisation, announced plans to licence satellite internet provider Starlink.

Starlink owner SpaceX has a low earth orbit (LEO) network of approximately 6,000 satellites that already covers much of Africa, but licences haven’t yet been granted in all territories. In fact in West Africa only Nigeria has licensed the service.

As recently as late last year we reported that Ghana’s National Communications Authority (NCA) was warning sellers of Starlink equipment in the country to cease operations as the service was not licenced.

It now seems that Starlink’s hope that services in Ghana might be available in the third quarter of this year 2024 have been boosted by the minister’s statement, in which she told parliament: “We have licensed satellite gateway air stations, landing rights and satellite air station networks.” She added: “[Satellite operator] OneWeb has already been licensed, Starlink is in the process of being licensed and other operators are being encouraged to land in Ghana.”

While effective communications should be possible thanks to alternative routes unaffected by the cable cuts, it has been estimated that the cable repairs could still take five weeks. Satellite communications may not be an entirely satisfactory or cheap alternative, but could prove useful for backup. This may explain the Ghanaian government’s apparent willingness to move quickly on licensing Starlink.

However, Starlink services in particular aren’t likely to be within the average Ghanaian’s price range, which is why the government is also looking at rural broadband, economically viable satellite services and affordable backhaul.

According to the Capacity Media website, the minister also called for collaboration across Africa on satellite connectivity, including a unified investment in the Regional African Satellite Communication Organization (RASCOM), a regional, government-supported grouping. 

She also reiterated government plans to skip auctioning 5G spectrum in favour of a neutral 4G/5G network made available for all network operators. The hope is that this might prevent one or two high-spending operators dominating the market.

Meanwhile government is giving MNOs until the end of March to restore full service after the cable issues, while organisations and enterprises are being encouraged to host content in at least two tier three or tier four data centres in different locations. In addition public organisations must utilise the national data centre as either their primary or back-up data host.

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