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Have you truly seen the money benefits of Starlink internet?

By Sam Adeoye
11 June 2022   |   4:00 am
In America and Britain, if you wanted to check how down-to-earth your political leader is, you ask them one question: what is the price of a tin of milk? If they can state the price of milk off the top of their head, it could mean that they’re indeed familiar...

In America and Britain, if you wanted to check how down-to-earth your political leader is, you ask them one question: what is the price of a tin of milk? If they can state the price of milk off the top of their head, it could mean that they’re indeed familiar with the daily struggles of the people they claim to represent.

It’s no perfect science, of course, but it does make some sense, doesn’t it? If you do understand a people’s motives, you’re in a better position to sell to them.

This is why I have brought a similar question to you. But rather ask about milk, I’ll ask you about data.

How much mobile data package can you buy for N500? In today’s economy, N500 exchanges for about one dollar (by official government rates). For the more than 90 million poor Nigerians who live in poverty, to commit this amount of money to internet connection is no child’s play. So, if you don’t know how much data you could buy for N500, it’s quite likely that, when you think about Starlink — the new satellite internet service provider that entered Nigeria in May — you’re thinking about it rather too academically, because you’re removed from the struggles and opportunities.

But how should one think about Starlink? I’d say the way a common man would. And by common man, I mean a young Nigerian who knows, off the top of his head, how much data he could buy for N500.

You see, since Mr Musk broke the news in May that Starlink would be launching in Nigeria, professional analysts have agreed that it’d largely be profitable for the country, not just because Starlink is owned by the world’s richest man, billionaire tech entrepreneur Elon Musk, but because the people would benefit from it.

Their reason is mainly because, as it was already doing in 32 other countries, Starlink would likely improve internet access, especially for the 49 percent of Nigerians that, according to Data Reportal, are not currently connected. These people either live in far-flung parts of the country that are unreachable by existing internet service providers, or they just cannot buy data at the rates being offered by the ISPs and telecom companies.

Another reason the experts have proposed is that Starlink will offer much faster speeds of connection. If Starlink works as advertised, then in its optimal capacity, it will be as fast as 104Mbps — that’s about 10 times what’s possible on the mobile data packages that most Nigerians have. So, let’s say a full-length movie is 350MB, with Starlink, you may be able to download that movie in three seconds or less. Blink once and your film is on your phone.

But as enticing as these theoretical benefits sound, let’s quickly recall how much it will cost to set up Starlink. If you choose the basic package, for instance, equipment will set you back by a mighty $599. Now, add $60 to ship that equipment to you. And, finally, set aside a minimum of $99 for monthly charges.

At the premium level, you’d have to pay about $2,500 for the complete kit and $500 for monthly service.

What this means is this: this product may be more fitting for enterprise users. Neither the basic nor the premium package appears designed for an individual who lives in a Nigerian village or who cannot buy data at the current rates. It is only when its cost is divided among many users that it begins to look more welcoming.

Which is why, I suppose, in all their excitement, the professional analysts, have focused on the obvious “industries” on which enterprise users may naturally want to direct their attention, if they must make a profit on their Starlink investments.

Industry one: Agriculture. With a Starlink service nearby, local farmers may now easily connect, via smartphones, to colourful weather updates, the latest crop prices, government fertiliser information, and banking products. A partnership with government wouldn’t hurt either and if all goes to plan, the agriculture sector should expand beyond the 22 percent contribution it makes to the GDP at the moment.

Industry two: Healthcare. Where there’s no doctor, there can now be a doctor via, say, Zoom. Hospital consultations via the world wide web will be possible if there’s fast, reliable internet. And this is just one of the ways government and private healthcare providers will reach people

Industry three: Education. Out of school children and understaffed schools can improve their conditions with a product like Starlink — think access to good teachers, instructional videos, and collaborations.

However, beyond these three sectors of the economy is where the milk question comes back into our conversation.

In what ways might young, creative Nigerians want to deploy this revolutionary technology? The answer to this question is another question: In what industries have young Nigerians been finding the most notable expression and fulfilment? Obviously, tech entrepreneurship and the show business. If you had your ear to the ground, you already knew this, right?

Now, what Starlink can do for this group of people, which, while we are on the subject, forms more than 60 percent of the country’s population, is to shorten the distance between Lagos, where everything tech and showbiz seems to be happening, and the rest of Nigeria.

New tech hubs may now spring up in places where the cost of living is much lower than it is in Lagos and other cities such as Abuja, Port Harcourt, Ibadan, and Benin. Tech training, staffing, and partnerships can then happen in more locations across the country, helping to stimulate local economies in the process.

In the entertainment sector, collaborative creation and distribution of content will become simpler. With browser-based production software and storage services becoming more accessible, Nollywood can begin to spread nationwide.

But for all of this to happen, investors will need to look at Nigeria more intently — yes, it’s the sort of market where you could deploy Starlink in such a way as to snatch the low hanging fruits in healthcare, agriculture and education; but you shouldn’t also miss the chance to harness the unstoppable energy and optimism of young Nigerians, which can unleash value in more ways than anyone can immediately imagine.

From digital payments to digital content creation and social networking, the products of the Nigerian Web have been birthed through youthful inventiveness. For this magic to captivate more of the land, Starlink may be the new wand the business community will need to wave.

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