Starlink geofence appears to have some gaping holes

I guess the brains down in Africa gonna take some time to do the things they never should have had

Starlink’s self-imposed end of April deadline to crack down on roaming users who abuse the service has come and gone without appearing to have worked.

It's been known for some time that Starlink service, which SpaceX doesn't formally make available everywhere, can be used beyond geofenced areas. The Ukrainian government has accused the Russian military of using Starlink, despite sanctions against Putin's defenestration-prone regime, and it's reportedly been used widely in Africa despite only a few countries approving its operations.

Starlink use in Africa, in fact, is what brings us to the current news that the service’s geofencing features appear to be full of holes.

Starlink sent a message to African users last month telling them that they had until April 30 to get their receivers to an approved location or risk service being cut off. As that date has now passed, Bloomberg went looking to see if illicit Starlink access is still working, and found it is.

In an online poll, 73 percent of roaming Starlink customers in South Africa reported their service is still working. Many users in other countries similarly say their transceivers can still make a connection.

According to the Starlink letter sent last month, African users outside of Mozambique, Zambia, Malawi, Rwanda, Kenya, Nigeria, and Benin we told they would all lose access. The letter reportedly stated that Starlink service would be ended even for users whose address is in one of those countries and operate in roaming mode - something that Elon Musk’s broadband biz allows, but not forever.

Starlink began offering a $200 per month Global Roaming service early last year, which allowed users to travel anywhere and retain access from anywhere a Starlink satellite could connect. But it appears Starlink is starting to crack down on those people cheekily importing receivers to get service in countries where the SpaceX biz doesn’t offer permanent services.

That is to say, Starlink really doesn't like, for instance, people buying and activating a terminal in a nation where the service is supported, and then taking it to another country where there is no official service, and still being able to use the equipment.

Starlink operating beyond its own geofences, perhaps due to illegal importation of terminals to Russia-held regions of Ukraine, became a political hot potato in March of this year when congressmen pointedly asked how it was possible for the broadband service to be available to users from a sanctioned nation. It emerged that Starlink terminals may have made their way into Russian hands in large numbers through neighboring countries where access is permitted. Given the description of the situation in Africa, it appears the matter is likely the same.

This naturally raises the question of how Starlink terminals work where they ought not to – and if the roaming service is well governed. That’s an important issue as SpaceX could find itself on the wrong side of legal obligations.

We've reached out to SpaceX but haven't received a response. ®

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