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With Starlink and Satellite Launches, Mongolia’s Digital Transformation Reaches a Milestone

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With Starlink and Satellite Launches, Mongolia’s Digital Transformation Reaches a Milestone

Mongolia’s activities with SpaceX and Thales Alenia Space demonstrate both Ulaanbaatar’s development strategy and its third-neighbor foreign policy.

With Starlink and Satellite Launches, Mongolia’s Digital Transformation Reaches a Milestone
Credit: Depositphotos

Mongolia’s digital transformation has taken some big leaps in recent days, with the launching of the ONDO Space (OWLSAT-1 and OWLSAT-2) Satellite via SpaceX and the start of Starlink services. The new developments not only showcase Ulaanbaatar’s approach to modern digital technologies, but also shed light on how Mongolia’s third-neighbor foreign policy supports developmental projects.   

On March 1, SpaceX launched Starlink services in Mongolia after two years of preparation, marking a major milestone in Mongolia’s digital transformation efforts. Mongolia and SpaceX formalized their cooperation in 2023 during the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain. 

The discussions on having Starlink as a high-speed internet provider required some legislative changes to provide a framework for such cooperation. The changing of the legislation unblocked many opportunities, allowing Mongolia to seek investment and establish partnerships with the United States, France, and India in space-related projects. After updating certain laws and regulations, in 2023, Mongolia granted two licenses for SpaceX to operate and provide internet service in the Mongolian domestic space.  

Mongolia’s digital transformation is inevitable. Currently, only 23.8 percent of Mongolian territory – less then a quarter – is covered by telecommunications services, including access to high-speed internet. Another 40 percent of the territory is sparsely populated by nomadic people with no access to the internet. One way Mongolia chose to solve this issue is through establishing a national satellite and forging partnerships with developed third-neighbor countries.  

In a press conference, Minister of Digital Development and Communications Uchral Nyam-Ochir explained that because of Mongolia’s vast territory, the nation requires massive financial investment to connect the remote population to internet services using physical infrastructure. He also added that even if local administrations were to lay down internet cables, the local subdivisions, or soums, and other remote areas would still have problems connecting. 

In that context, Uchral marked Mongolia’s partnership with Starlink as a successful development for Mongolia’s digital era. “The start of Starlink services immediately unlocks a new wave of connectivity across Mongolia, delivering quicker internet speeds in some of the most remote areas,” he said. “Starlink will bridge the digital divide between Ulaanbaatar and the remote parts of the country and allow communications and platforms to operate across our entire nation.”

In remote parts of Mongolia, internet services matter for much more than watching Netflix and connecting with friends on Facebook. Having internet access is crucial for disaster management, emergency response, medical services, and receiving other services. 

The second important aspect of Mongolia’s digital transformation is that Ulaanbaatar’s digital pursuit is selective, framed within the country’s third-neighbor partnerships. 

Last year, during President Khurelsukh Ukhnaa’s state visit to France, Ulaanbaatar reached an agreement with Thales Alenia Space to construct Mongolia’s first national telecommunication satellite system. 

The ambassador of France to Mongolia, Sebastien, Surun told The Diplomat’s Bolor Lkhaajav that “the Government of Mongolia has identified the need for better connectivity while dealing with the challenges of a sparse population in a large country.” The Chinggis Satellite that Thales Alenia Space is constructing is “a sovereign solution: Mongolian engineers [are] working on Mongolian soil, and they will have full control of the satellite,” Surun added. 

The launching of Mongolia’s national satellite system will connect Mongolians in both urban and remote areas. The system will also strengthen Mongolia’s disaster relief efforts and management, as the satellites can be used to monitor extreme weather. 

In another milestone, on March 4, Mongolia’s OndoSpace Satellite was successfully launched with SpaceX from the Vandenberg Space Force Base in the United States. The rocket was also carrying payloads from Argentina, Australia, France, Japan, Spain, and the United States, among others.

Commenting on the latest launch of OndoSpace, Uchral, the digital minister, said, “Two low-earth-orbit nano satellites were successfully launched into space aboard SpaceX’s Falcon-9 rocket from the company’s Vandenberg Space Force Base launch site.”

Mongolia’s partnership with SpaceX also means the possibility of increasing investment and space-related projects, and training engineers. The government of Mongolia has  announced that it will establish a “space sandbox” to support the growth of a domestic space economy. This comprehensive new framework will provide regulatory and logistical support for companies to conduct testing and R&D in Mongolia while making use of the country’s newly enhanced connectivity.

The launching of the OndoSpace satellite and the start of SpaceX’s Starlink services are two recent examples of a successful implementation of Mongolia’s digital transformation. 

Moreover, as Mongolia continues to strengthen bilateral ties with global partners, Ulaanbaatar’s third-neighbor foreign policy is serving as an important element. Mongolia’s selective partnerships, especially for its digital transformation endeavors, are strategic, achieving its goals without depending on Mongolia’s neighbors, Russia and China.