My Starlink Experience In Kenya: The Disappointing Reality Behind The Extreme Hype.

Over a month ago, I finally experienced Starlink, the new player in Kenya’s ever-evolving internet service landscape. The anticipation was palpable, as many of us in Kenya and the rest of Africa have waited with bated breath to experience Elon Musk’s satellite-based and much-hyped Internet service on Kenyan soil. 

I had the good fortune to get an early firsthand experience of this service courtesy of a unit loaned to me by Farouk Ramji, the CEO of Mawingu, an ISP that delivers affordable Internet Services to underserved locations in Kenya. This blog post is my firsthand experience with Starlink in Kenya.

Unpacking the Starlink Experience

From the moment you encounter the Starlink package that houses the home user version, it’s clear that a considerable amount of thought has been put into crafting a user-friendly experience. 

As a technology enthusiast and seasoned practitioner who started his career connecting Kenya’s first Internet users to modems on analogue copper-based phone lines, I must commend the simplicity and straightforward setup process that Starlink offers. It really breaks barriers and enables non-technical users to easily set up their connection using just a mobile app!

A Glimpse Inside the Standard Starlink Hardware Kit

Before delving deeper into my user experience, let’s unfold the layers of what a typical Starlink package houses. When you receive the order, a box revealing a tightly packed kit awaits you. It’s almost like opening a state-of-the-art digital future, piece by piece. Here’s a detailed walkthrough of what you will find inside the Standard Starlink hardware kit:

Starlink Antenna/Dish

At the heart of the setup is the sleek Starlink antenna or dish which has a white, flat, and rectangular frame — It does look like a futuristic piece of technology that doesn’t look like a toy! it is the centerpiece of a Starlink home connection, ready to reach out to the satellites and usher in a new era of connectivity. Indeed, when you eventually set it up and see it tilting and turning to connect to Startlink’s satellite network, it is the coolest high-tech thing you will ever see that gave me goosebumps each and every time!

Mounting Base

The mounting base provided is solid and makes it highly portable so that you can easily move your Starlink dish from location to location with ease. It securely holds the dish mast with a spring-loaded tab, promising stability and flexibility in setup.

Wifi Router

The Starlink WiFi router is the vital link that connects you to the Internet via the satellite dish. It also powers the dish but also acts as a hub for data communication It is equipped with WiFi 5 technology which ensures a secure and robust connection from 802.11a to 802.11ac. 

While it covers a decently large area its main limitation is in the lack of an Ethernet port which I found baffling, to be honest. However, as expected, you can buy this as an accessory though if you need one. Very strange indeed! The other thing is that the router has no buttons or switches at all to control it — as in nothing! The only way you can interact with it is via the mobile app, or a browser on your regular computer or laptop.

The 15 Meter Starlink Cable

Connecting the dish and the WiFi router is the sturdy 15-metre Starlink cable which facilitates seamless data communication and power transfer. Although based on the standard CAT5e protocol, it has proprietary connectors on each end, ensuring a secure and exclusive connection between your Starlink components. This cable is impressively long meaning that you can really have it a decent distable from whereever you plan to use the Internet at home and/or work. 

Power Cable &Additional Accessories

To round off the setup, the kit includes a power cable. Moreover, to add a personal touch to your setup, the kit includes a few stickers and user documentation, though I found it to be rather brief and lacking in detail. In essence, Starlink has tried to remove all the hassles that come with tinkering around with bits so that you just do everything via the user-friendly mobile app.

A Disappointing Starlink Experience

My Starlink experience, however, was disappointing. The service promised high-speed internet, and true to their word, I witnessed speeds soaring past the 100mbps mark. But this was marred by erratic fluctuations and notable latency issues that seemed to persist despite multiple attempts to rectify them. The reason seems most likely due to obstructions like trees and buildings that may have been blocking the ability for the Starlink dish to connect reliably and consistently to their satellite network. 

I tried, on many occasions, to move the dish to different locations. I put it above my car garage, in the garden, in the driveway, everywhere essentially over 3 weeks or so and still could not get what I would call a decent and reliable Internet connection. 

Comparing this with my trusty 4G and 5G enabled smartphones, as well as the reliable fiber-based Internet service I have at home, Starlink seemed to fall short in the stability department. My experience highlighted a clear trade-off between speed and reliability, a balance that Starlink hasn’t quite achieved yet which was probably due to the aforementioned obstructions. 

I will give Starlink the benefit of the doubt in this regard given that its technology works globally and has even been a lifeline in Ukraine’s war with Russia! The other caveat is that perhaps if I lived in a location with no obstructions and had even mounted the dish on the roof of my house it may have been a different story altogether.

Starlink’s Obvious Pricing Problem

Price-wise, Starlink requires a fairly steep investment for any consumer or small business in Kenya. The home package comes with a price tag of around Kes. 100,000 at current US Dollar exchange rates, accompanied by a relatively more reasonable monthly subscription of around Kes. 7,500. 

For city dwellers and those in towns with a broad range of reliable internet options, this price point may be hard to justify, especially given the service’s apparent shortcomings that may be caused by less-than-ideal environmental factors like trees and buildings. 

However, I can see Starlink carving a niche in remote and rural areas in Kenya where options are limited or non-existent. For these regions, Starlink could potentially unlock new opportunities and bridge the digital divide that has long been a challenge.

Location Matters For Starlink To Work Well

Interestingly, feedback from Starlink users in other parts of Nairobi and Kenya presents a more promising picture. A friend of mine in Mombasa swears that Starlink has been much better for him and his business compared to the fiber-based Internet service they have been using for years albeit with the long latency issues still being present. 

This suggests that the true potential of Starlink can be realized in different geographical setups across Kenya. So, while my personal experience was underwhelming, it seems necessary to acknowledge the diverse reception Starlink is experiencing across the country.

An Inconclusive Perspective On Starlink In Kenya

As I reflect on my Starliknk experience, which to be honest I found to be well below what I had expected or hoped for, the overall potential of the service cannot be dismissed outright. 

Starlink has ushered in a new Internet era in Kenya and Africa for underserved locations and regions. However, the erratic Internet performance and high price point make it a much less practical option in locations like Nairobi and its environs as well as other well-served cities and towns in Kenya.

Moving forward, I remain hopeful that Starlink will fine-tune its services to offer a more consistent and reliable internet solution for Kenyans, Only time will tell if Starlink manages to live up to the expectations and become a significant player in Kenya’s internet sector.

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