US-based Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) is vying for licences to launch its Starlink Satellite internet services in Nigeria.
The venture unit founded by billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk, said it has been in talks with Umar Danbatta, executive vice-chairman of the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) over the past several months.
“Having made substantial progress in the discussion, the commission granted SpaceX’s request for a face-to-face discussion to gain better insights on the prospects,” the company said.
Starlink seeks to sell internet connections to almost anyone on the planet by way of a growing network of private satellites orbiting overhead.
Is has been in development within SpaceX and secured around $885.5 million in grant from the US Federal Communications Commission at the end of 2020.
In February 2021, SpaceX said that Starlink now serves over 10,000 customers. When the deal with NCC succeeds, Nigeria could be the largest market Starlink has launched in so far.
SpaceX plans to launch a low-earth orbiting (LOE) constellation of satellites to provide low latency, high bandwidths Internet to all corners of the world. The company has identified Nigeria as a critical market in Africa.
Internet broadband penetration has dropped to 40 percent since October when it recorded 45 percent.
The National Broadband Plan 2020-2025 has set a target of 70 percent penetration. Investment in high speed internet infrastructure has been slow, as operators struggle to come to terms with high Right of Way fees and regulatory policies that have affected revenues in the past. The NCC is also yet to remit its N65 billion counterpart funding pledge.
The NCC had in 2019 collaborated with a consortium of infrastructural companies to raise N265 billion for the development of broadband infrastructure across the country in the next four years. The commission would raise N65 billion subject to the approval of the Federal Executive Council as counterpart funding. The infrastructural companies would raise the balance of N200bn.
With the funding, operators and NCC hope to connect about 200 communities in the country that yet to see mobile connectivity. But without the NCC fulfilling its pledge, operators are reluctant to deploy capital for the infrastructure.
Satellite internet represents a viable alternative as it does not require the huge amount of capital that fibre cables need. Besides, SpaceX has already established itself as a front liner in the race for Space technology and has deployed huge resources in Space exploration projects.
“As the regulator of a highly dynamic sector in Nigeria, the commission is conscious of the need to ensure that our regulatory actions are anchored on national interest,” the NCC said.