Speedcast Secures Deal to Integrate Starlink Internet for Shipowners

Starlink is a division of the Elon Musk-owned launch company SpaceX (SpaceX file image)

Published Sep 13, 2022 7:53 PM by The Maritime Executive

Like entrepreneur Elon Musk's other enterprises, the satcom service Starlink is known for a direct-to-consumer business model - something which has not reportedly sat well with the third-party integrators in the maritime satcom sector, who have traditionally mediated the relationship between satellite owners and shipowners. But in an announcement Tuesday, multichannel data provider Speedcast said that it has reached a one-of-a-kind deal to distribute and integrate Starlink internet services for clients in shipping. 

The news comes as something of a surprise for the market. Starlink announced a direct-to-shipowner, flat-price maritime satcom service in July, followed by a major announcement of a fleetwide rollout for Royal Caribbean in August. Tuesday's announcement of a more conventional third-party-managed service appears to mark a return to the familiar maritime satcom business model, and Speedcast says that it has already been supporting customer trials. 

“Starlink is an exciting new communications pathway for customers, offering significant diversity and added capacity at a time when remote sites continue to push to the farthest ends of the Earth and when bandwidth demand is ever increasing,” said Joe Spytek, Chief Executive Officer at Speedcast. “As a trusted, agnostic integrator of next-generation technologies for customers, we’re excited to add Starlink to our toolkit to make ubiquitous connectivity a reality for remote operations around the world.”

Starlink's 2,200 on-orbit satellites have been providing connectivity for terrestrial customers for some time, but marine satcom has some of the most challenging conditions available: few places to put ground stations, harsh weather conditions, and an installation surface that won't hold still. The firm's initial maritime offer was based on a flat-panel ESA terminal, which has the advantage of no moving parts but is limited in capability for low-elevation connections. 

Starlink's advertised bandwidth of up to 350 mbps is several times faster than the competition, and the service also offers much lower latency due to the satellites' low orbit. This makes it attractive for videoconferencing and other applications where a time lag in the connection is undesirable. Royal Caribbean claims that a trial aboard the cruise ship Freedom of the Seas drew "a tremendous amount of positive feedback from guests and crew," prompting it to buy the service for every ship in its fleet.