Starlink, the satellite based internet service from SpaceX, has long wanted to expand its service to airplanes, ships, and large trucks. But they won’t be coming to private passenger cars any time soon. Elon Musk has said that connecting Tesla cars to Starlink isn’t likely to happen “as our terminal is much too big.”
Recently, the US Federal Communications Commission authorized SpaceX to use the Starlink satellite internet network with moving vehicles, a move that will give impetus to the company’s plan to expand broadband offerings to commercial airlines, ships, and trucks. (As someone who has recently experienced the limitations of internet service on a cruise ship, I can attest to how welcome Starlink service will be.)
According to Reuters (via Autoblog), Starlink has long sought to grow its customer base from individual broadband users in rural, internet-poor locations to enterprise customers in the potentially lucrative automotive, shipping, and airline sectors. “Authorizing a new class of terminals for SpaceX’s satellite system will expand the range of broadband capabilities to meet the growing user demands that now require connectivity while on the move,” the FCC said in its authorization. SpaceX submitted it request for approval early in 2021. .
SpaceX has launched about 2,700 Starlink satellites into low Earth orbit since 2019 and has amassed hundreds of thousands of subscribers, including many who pay $110 a month for broadband internet using $599 self-install terminal kits. The company has focused heavily in recent years on convincing airlines to include Starlink for in-flight WiFi, having inked its first such deals in recent months with Hawaiian Airlines and semi-private jet service JSX.
“We’re obsessive about the passenger experience,” Jonathan Hofeller, Starlink’s commercial sales chief, said at an aviation conference earlier this month. “We’re going to be on planes here very shortly, so hopefully passengers are wowed by the experience.” SpaceX, as part of an earlier experimental FCC license, has been testing Starlink terminals specifically designed for aircraft on Gulfstream jets and some US military aircraft. Musk has said that FCC approval will open up Starlink for use on airplanes, ships, large trucks, and RVs.
Competition in the low-Earth orbiting satellite internet sector is fierce. Satellite operator OneWeb is already a Starlink rival, and Kuiper — owned by Amazon — is planning to launch its own prototype satellites for a proprietary broadband network later this year.
As the internet becomes space-based, network owners will acquire tremendous power over what information gets transmitted and how fast various content is delivered. Many are salivating at the prospect of faster, more reliable internet service, but is society prepared to accept that private individuals have so much control over what we are allowed to see and say in the digital universe? “We’ll see,” said the Zen master.
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