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MOL Rolls Out Starlink to its Passenger Vessels

Nippon Maru
Nippon Maru (MOL file image)

Published Aug 1, 2023 7:01 PM by The Maritime Executive

Japanese shipping conglomerate MOL has joined the growing number of companies that have adopted SpaceX's Starlink satellite internet service, which is making inroads with its relatively low cost and high speeds. 

Working with Japanese satcom integrator KDDI, MOL will install Starlink on its cruise ship, the Nippon Maru. Passenger vessels have elevated demand for connectivity due to guests' needs for Wifi, and cruise operators have been among the earliest and most enthusiastic adopters of Starlink. MOL will also install Starlink on its ferries (Sunflower Sapporo and Sunflower Satsuma) and on a coastal ro/ro vessel (Musashi Maru). 

MOL is expecting download speeds of 220 Mbps, at the upper end of terrestrial cable service. The trial will evaluate the performance and economy of the service, and MOL Group plans to introduce the system from autumn 2023 onwards (as each ship's schedule allows). 

The company said that its decision to try Starlink came from the rising volume of data transfer in modern shipping, which "presents challenges" for ship-to-shore connectivity with traditional satcom. Higher speeds will help MOL to share data related to ship operations with shoreside management teams more easily. In addition, it will be a recruitment and retention tool for a new generation of seafarers - and a value-added service for passengers.

"Many crewmembers, especially younger ones, have expressed a need for the same high-speed Internet access that is available on land, so the working environment must be improved by eliminating the onshore/offshore information gap," said MOL. "In addition, cruise ship and ferry passengers are increasingly requesting high-speed Internet access onboard as a way to enrich their travel experience."

The trial will use KDDI's "Starlink Business" product, which was designed for shoreside applications - not the "Starlink Maritime"-branded product seen elsewhere. 

MOL Group has previously trialed Starlink on its deep-sea shipping vessels in cooperation with Marlink. Multiple third-party connectivity providers (Marlink, Tototheo, IEC, Speedcast, Elcome and others) have added it to their portfolios; it can also be bought directly from SpaceX for $250 a month and $2,500 in equipment. Other users include Solstad, Royal Caribbean, Hurtigruten, NCL, Silversea, Windstar, Eastern Pacific, Columbia Shipmanagement and Anglo-Eastern.