Bloomberg: Mask's Starlink terminals can be illegally bought on the black market

Bloomberg: Mask
# 26 March 2024 09:25 (UTC +04:00)

A Bloomberg News investigation identified wide-spanning examples of Starlink kits being traded and activated illegally, APA reports.

How they are smuggled and the sheer availability of Starlink on the black market suggests that its misuse is a systemic global problem, raising questions about the company’s control of a system with clear national security dimensions.

Starlink was found to be used in countries such as Venezuela, Yemen, Sudan and South Africa. However, the company said that the terminals are not sold in these countries. But smugglers activate the devices in other countries, after which they find a buyer in any other country.

In South Africa, where Musk was born, the government hasn’t yet approved Starlink’s application to operate. But that hasn’t prevented a flourishing trade in terminals there. Facebook groups feature providers that offer to buy and activate the kits in Mozambique, where it is licensed, and then deliver them over the border to South African customers.

In Yemen, Starlink kits are openly for sale on social media, bought in countries such as Singapore or Malaysia, then activated on roaming. Customers pay via bank transfers in other countries or at the port of arrival. Prices are higher in Houthi-controlled areas, said one seller who asked not be named for safety reasons. That’s because telecoms are controlled by the Houthis, who profit from the revenues, and have warned of “severe actions” against those caught using Starlink.

Starlink service is currently available — legally — in eight countries in sub-Saharan Africa, and the US company has big plans to build its user base. It is working with local marketing partners such as Jumia Technologies AG, an e-commerce company backed by Pernod Ricard SA that has an agreement to sell Starlink equipment for residential use in Nigeria and Kenya. There has been significant demand, with the first shipment to Nigeria selling out in a few hours, according to Chief Commercial Officer Hisham El Gabry.