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Sudan: Surge in Satellite Internet Usage

business . 

The ongoing war in Sudan and Darfur has exacerbated the already challenging situation of unreliable and intermittent internet and communication connections in the region. Since the outbreak of the conflict in April 2023, civilians and businesses have faced frequent disruptions in telecommunication services, leaving them isolated and disconnected from critical information channels.

To address this issue, there has been a notable increase in the adoption of Starlink satellite receivers across Sudan, particularly in Nyala, the capital of South Darfur. Starlink, a satellite internet service provided by SpaceX, offers a reliable alternative to traditional terrestrial networks, especially in areas with limited infrastructure or frequent disruptions.

The surge in demand for Starlink devices underscores the urgent need for reliable internet connectivity in Sudanese communities affected by the conflict. Access to consistent internet services is crucial for accessing information, communicating with loved ones, and conducting business activities, especially in times of crisis.

The deployment of Starlink satellites over Ukraine during the Russian invasion in 2022 highlighted the technology's potential to rapidly restore internet services in areas affected by conflict or natural disasters. This versatility and resilience have made Starlink an attractive solution for communities facing connectivity challenges worldwide.

As the use of Starlink and other satellite-based internet services continues to grow, it may help bridge the digital divide and provide essential connectivity to underserved regions, including those affected by conflict and humanitarian crises. However, ensuring equitable access to these technologies and addressing regulatory and logistical challenges remain important considerations for their widespread adoption and impact.

The widespread adoption of satellite internet services in Sudan, particularly in villages and cities across the country, highlights the increasing demand for reliable connectivity solutions in regions with limited access to traditional telecommunication infrastructure.

El Basma, a company supplying Starlink devices to Darfur, reveals that the distribution of these devices initially flowed into Sudan via Chad and Darfur but has since shifted to mainly sourcing from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) via South Sudan due to restrictions imposed by Chadian authorities.

Despite the logistical challenges, the availability of satellite internet devices has expanded to various states in Sudan, including Port Sudan, El Gedaref, El Gezira, and others. This wider distribution has also led to a drop in prices, making the technology more accessible to a broader range of users.

The affordability and accessibility of satellite internet services are transforming connectivity in Sudan, empowering communities to overcome communication barriers and access vital information. As the deployment of these devices continues to grow, they are likely to play a significant role in bridging the digital divide and enhancing economic opportunities in underserved regions.

Mohamed Fateh Ismail, the owner of a Starlink store in Nyala, sheds light on the challenges and dynamics surrounding the availability and pricing of Starlink devices in Sudan. Despite efforts to control the flow of devices from neighboring countries like Chad, some still find their way into Sudan, albeit at higher costs due to increased restrictions and transportation expenses.

Initially, devices brought from Chad were priced around SDG800,000, but with tightening controls and rising transport costs, the price has surged to SDG2.2 million in Nyala. To meet the demand, suppliers have resorted to sourcing devices from alternative markets such as Libya and the UAE.

The Starlink device typically comprises a router and a capture dish, with an initial price from the producer company set at $599. Customers typically opt for open packages, with monthly subscriptions ranging from $100 to $230. These subscriptions are often paid using credit cards from abroad, highlighting the reliance on international transactions for accessing satellite internet services in Sudan.

Despite the challenges and fluctuations in pricing, the availability of Starlink devices continues to address the pressing need for reliable internet connectivity in Sudan, offering communities a lifeline amid communication blackouts and infrastructure limitations.

Abdelrahim Muhammad, an owner of a Starlink device in Otash camp for the displaced near Nyala, emphasizes the widespread adoption of satellite internet services in Darfur, highlighting its role as a vital alternative to traditional communication networks. While acknowledging the financial strain on families, especially those reliant on international communication, he underscores the importance of providing access to those in need, with his center offering free access to those unable to afford it.

Journalist Alaeddin Babiker corroborates this sentiment, noting the pervasive presence of Starlink devices across Darfur and the significant shift away from terrestrial communication networks. With the proliferation of these devices, reliance on satellite internet has become ingrained in the daily lives of residents, rendering a return to traditional networks unlikely.

The cost of accessing satellite internet services remains a concern for many families, particularly amid economic challenges. The exchange rate fluctuations further compound these issues, with varying rates affecting the affordability of services. Despite these challenges, the widespread adoption of satellite internet underscores its indispensable role in bridging communication gaps and providing connectivity in regions where traditional infrastructure may be lacking.

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