Elon Musk enters the Wi-Fi market in flight with small satellites, during the JSX test flight, the Starlink system recorded transmission capacities in excess of 100Mb/s


SpaceX wants to show the world that its Starlink satellite system can stream Netflix and YouTube at 30,000 feet. That’s why it recently organized a media demonstration aboard an aircraft operated by its first customer airline, regional carrier JSX. This short trip from Burbank to San Jose, Calif., marks the beginning of Elon Musk’s attempt to capture the in-flight services market from satellite providers Intelsat and Viasat Inc., which already service thousands of planes.

It won’t be easy, even for a serial market disruptor like Musk. Are you a serious competitor? Yes, said Jeff Sare, president of commercial aviation at Intelsat, a leading provider of wireless services to airlines. However, Sare added: We don’t think anyone can beat us.

Starlink, which is part of Space Exploration Technologies Corp. from Musk, provides broadband from a constellation of small, low-flying satellites. The lower satellites circle the planet in 90 to 120 minutes. This is a change from the established practice of using some powerful spacecraft in higher and slower orbits. The advantage of Starlink is that your signals arrive faster.

This is a benefit to the company’s core business of providing broadband services to predominantly rural households in sparsely populated areas. Starlink has launched more than 3,000 satellites and serves more than 400,000 subscribers, the company said in recent documents.

But the downside to Musk’s technology is that smaller satellites have less capacity and can struggle to meet the needs of large planes in crowded skies. Dozens of planes fly at the travel hubs, with each plane carrying at least 100 connected passengers. As satellites orbit the globe, only a few of them can serve an area like Atlanta and its busy airport, which raises capacity issues, B. Riley said in a memo last year. SpaceX said the projections underestimate the rate at which the system is changing.

After filing an application with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) last March for Starlink components that would allow the service to work in moving vehicles, SpaceX co-founder Elon Musk hopes that broadband service for the Starlink Satellite will become available. become fully mobile by the end of 2021, allowing customers to use existing satellite dishes at different addresses. Musk tweeted that Starlink could exit its beta phase as early as this summer.

SpaceX had already begun testing its Starlink service, starting with the company’s employees. The first speed tests that appeared online, and later confirmed by SpaceX, showed impressive internet speeds, even with less than a tenth of the expected number of satellites; from an initial fleet of 12,000 planned satellites, the company has currently launched only about 800 satellites. US regulators recently cited Starlink’s still-in-development technology when they denied the service an $866 million government subsidy.

This would be a big change for Starlink, which at the moment does not even allow customers to move existing hardware from one address to another if you are accepted to participate in the beta phase of the high speed internet service, the registration forms are clear that the service is limited to the location you enter when signing up. But that will change before next year. Elon Musk said on Friday that SpaceX’s satellite internet service Starlink is expected to be fully mobile by the end of the year, meaning customers will be able to use it from moving vehicles or different addresses.

In July of this year, the FCC granted SpaceX permission to use its Starlink satellite internet system in moving vehicles, including cars, trucks, boats and planes. It’s a huge win for SpaceX’s Starlink system, potentially opening up the service to a more diverse range of use cases and customers. Starlink currently allows portability for those who pay an additional $25 per month on top of the regular monthly fee of $110. However, portability means the ability to move a Starlink base station from one fixed location to another.

SpaceX sought regulatory approval from the FCC in March last year to allow the use of Starlink Earth Stations in Motion (ESIM) terminals in moving vehicles. To access the system and receive high-speed Internet coverage, customers must purchase a personal terrestrial antenna or user terminal designed to connect to all Starlink satellites in orbit. Until now, these dishes had to be in a fixed location to access the system.

In addition, the FCC fulfilled the request of SpaceX and another satellite company, Kepler Communications, paving the way for a new class of user terminals that can connect to broadband satellites while on the move. In doing so, the FCC chose to reject a petition from Dish Network that sought to stop companies from using the frequency in the 12 GHz band. However, the FCC will continue to conduct analysis as it progresses in developing rules on the presence of ESIM devices in the 12 GHz band and has stated that Kepler and SpaceX will be subject to any future rules they establish.

Starlink says it can service planes of all sizes and cites an agreement with parent company Hawaiian Airlines to service large Airbus and Boeing planes. Regarding the concession’s rejection, the company said it was unfairly rejected by officials who judged current data speeds over the fastest service anticipated when the Sky Network is built.

It has to work and it has to be cheap, said Chris Quilty, a partner at Quilty Analytics, a consultant to the space and satellite industry. It’s a very complex market. And airlines have historically been extremely cautious. Starlink executives know they have a lot of work for them to do. “There are a lot of challenges to get where we want to be,” said Jonathan Hofeller, vice president of commercial sales at Starlink. It will take time for people to adopt the mindset that JSX and Starlink have.

The company’s deals with JSX and Hawaiian, announced in April, came after SpaceX pitched Starlink to four of America’s biggest airlines, to no avail, according to people familiar with the matter. “It’s a foot in the door for Starlink,” said telecommunications analyst Roger Entner. This is proof of concept. Once it works in JSX, it will work anywhere.

Part of the JSX’s attraction was Starlink’s flat antenna, not much bigger than a large pizza box. It is less bulky than the swivel antennas widely used by other satellite services, so it can be installed in the cabin of the small regional aircraft of the Brazilian company Embraer SA that JSX uses.

“The antenna is a definite advantage in securing in-flight connectivity contracts for regional aircraft,” said Louie DiPalma, analyst at William Blair & Co. This company does business with Viasat. Over the next few years, airlines will be able to upgrade more than 1,000 planes in their regional fleets to rid them of their old, slow Internet systems, and Starlink is a strong candidate to win those contracts, DiPalma said.

Intelsat says it remains the largest provider of in-flight services, with about 2,000 aircraft connected by its satellites and about 1,000 aircraft connected by air-to-ground systems that communicate with ground equipment. Viasat says its flight system serves about 1,930 aircraft and has agreements to equip an additional 1,210 aircraft.

About 10,000 commercial aircraft already have in-flight wireless, and that number is expected to reach 36,000 by 2031, according to NSR, a satellite research and space industry company owned by Analysys Mason. The market’s annual revenue is expected to reach more than $7.3 billion by 2031, up from $1.9 billion in 2021, NSR said via email.

During the JSX test flight, the Starlink system consistently recorded transmission capacities in excess of 100 megabits per second, as measured by the Ookla app, a test service. There were about a dozen people on board. Additional onboard devices increased demand to the equivalent of 20 to 30 passengers using the system.

SpaceX’s Starlink is still developing its constellation of internet satellites and the service is only intended for use in the specific location where the user is registered. However, for an additional $25 a month, users will be able to take their satellite dish elsewhere from time to time, thanks to the service’s new portability feature. This opens up connectivity to remote places that will likely never be covered by 5G.

SpaceX, officially Space Exploration Technologies Corporation, is an American company specializing in the field of astronautics and spaceflight. Founded on May 6, 2002 by entrepreneur Elon Musk, SpaceX is one of two private service providers that the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) awarded a contract to transport cargo to the International Space Station (ISS) as part of of the COTS program. The company is also developing space exploration projects for the Moon and Mars, and the Starlink program for high-speed Internet access via satellites on Earth.

You want to wake up in the morning thinking the future is going to be great and that’s what it means to be a space civilization. It is about believing in the future and thinking that the future will be better than the past. And I can’t imagine anything more exciting than getting out there and being among the stars,” Elon Musk said of SpaceX.

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See too:

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