SpaceX’s Starlink is in talks with ‘several’ airlines for in-flight Wi-Fi

Elon Musk’s satellite internet network is competing with OneWeb to install faster Wi-Fi on commercial airplanes

The team behind SpaceX’s growing satellite Internet network Starlink is in talks with “several” airlines to beam Internet into their airplanes, the project’s vice president said during a conference panel Wednesday. Starlink’s expansion from rural homes and airlines is an expected move for Elon Musk’s space company as it races to open a broadband network commercially later this year.

“We are in talks with a number of airlines,” Jonathan Hoffler, SpaceX’s vice president of Starlink and commercial sales, told a panel at the Connected Aviation Intelligence Summit on Wednesday. “We have our own aviation product in development … We’ve already done some demonstrations, and are looking to finally put that product on aircraft in the near future.”

Since 2018, SpaceX has launched about 1,800 Starlink satellites out of about 4,400 that are needed to provide global coverage of broadband Internet, primarily for rural homes where fiber connections are not available. The company is in the middle of Starlink beta phase which promises 100 Mbps download and 20 Mbps upload speed with thousands of users till now. Most are paying $99 per month for internet under that beta, using a self-aligning Starlink dish and a $499 bundle of Wi-Fi routers.

Last year, SpaceX filed plans Test Starlink on Five Gulfstream Jets. And in March, SpaceX sought FCC approval to use Starlink with so-called Earth stations in motion — industry jargon originally used to refer to any vehicle that receives a signal, including cars, trucks, oceangoing ships and planes. Will do Musk clarified on Twitter at the time: “Not connecting Tesla cars to Starlink because our terminal is too big. It’s for planes, ships, big trucks and RVs.” Another FCC filing from last Friday requested approval for testing in five US states of an updated receiver with a square-shaped antenna, a basic design commonly associated with aircraft antennae.

Hoffler said the design for SpaceX’s airline antennas will be similar to the technology inside its consumer terminals, but “with obvious enhancements to aviation connectivity.” Like those consumer antennas, the aviation hardware will be designed and manufactured by SpaceX, he said. Aerial antennas can connect to ground stations to communicate with Starlink satellites.

For Starlink to provide connectivity to airplanes flying over remote parts of the ocean, far from ground stations, inter-satellite links will be needed – a capability in which satellites can use laser links without signals bouncing off ground stations first. use to talk to each other. “The next generation of our group, which is working, will have this inter-satellite interaction,” Hoefler said.

SpaceX launched its 29th batch of Starlink satellites from Florida on May 26
Photo by Paul Hennessy / SOPA Images / LightRocket via Getty Images

Competition is fierce between Musk’s Starlink network and a growing industry of low-orbit satellite Internet providers. New competitors include the so-called mega-constellation from Jeff Bezos’ Amazon, which has yet to launch any of its planned 3,000 satellites, and the UK’s OneWeb, which has launched 182 of its 640 satellites. All those satellites will be in low-Earth orbit, a domain below the more distant geostationary orbits of the larger Internet satellites that currently provide Internet services to commercial aircraft.

Established US competitors for in-flight Internet are Intelsat and Viasat, which operate a network of satellites in geostationary orbit. ViaSat recently announced It plans to use its next-generation satellite network on Delta’s mainline fleet. The California-based company is planning its own 300-satellite low-orbit network as well as a new geostationary trio that will debut early next year. It is already a tough competitor to SpaceX. Viasat recently threatened to sue the Federal Communications Commission for not conducting an environmental review on the Starlink amendment.

SpaceX is confident it can surpass more established competition. “Overall, travelers and customers want a great experience that [geostationary] The systems just can’t provide that,” Hoffler said on the panel. “So it’s up to the individual airline whether they want to be responsive to that, or if they’re okay with a system that isn’t responsive to what their customers demand.”

OneWeb, which was pulled out of bankruptcy last year by the UK government and Indian telecommunications company Bharti Global, is also targeting in-flight internet services with its group and far more public Compared to SpaceX with its plans. Asked by a panel moderator whether customers can expect to have in-flight Internet access with any competing satellite networks currently expanding into low-Earth orbit, Ben Griffin, OneWeb’s VP of mobility services, estimated Planted that “the middle of next year… probably early.” He said airlines want to see developed hardware and services that work first.

“We’ve been talking to airlines for a long time, so there’s no interest,” Griffin said during the same panel. SpaceX’s Hoffler was concerned when questioned – “What Ben said is correct. People want to see the hardware, they want to see the constellations, and so we’re driving as fast as we can.” When will the announcement? To be determined. Don’t know. Hopefully sooner than later.”

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