Today, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) granted SpaceX permission to uses its Starlink satellite internet system on vehicles in motion — including cars, trucks, boats and planes. This is a big win for SpaceX’s Starlink system, potentially opening up the service to a more diverse set of use cases and customers.
SpaceX sought regulatory approval from the FCC in March of last year to allow Earth Stations in Motion (ESIM) Starlink terminals to be used in moving vehicles. To join the system and receive broadband Internet coverage, customers must purchase a personal ground antenna or user terminal that is designed to connect to any Starlink orbiting satellites that happen to be overhead. Until now, these dishes had to remain in a fixed location to access the system.
The FCC has now granted SpaceX’s request — as well as one from another satellite company, Kepler Communications — paving the way for a new class of consumer terminals that can connect to broadband satellites while in motion. In doing so, the FCC chose to reject a petition by Dish Network that wanted to prevent the companies from using frequency in the 12GHz band. However, the FCC will continue to conduct analysis as it moves forward with rulemaking on the availability of ESIM devices in the 12GHz band, and said Kepler and SpaceX will be subject to any future rules it sets.
The FCC argued that approving the new option was in the public interest. “We agree with SpaceX and Kepler that the public interest would be served by placing conditions on their applications,” the FCC wrote in its June 30 authorization. “Enabling a new class of terminals for SpaceX’s satellite system will expand the range of broadband capabilities to meet the growing demands of consumers who now demand connectivity while on the go, whether you’re driving an RV across the country, moving a cargo ship from Europe to a US port, or while on a domestic or international flight.”
Starlink is SpaceX’s ambitious initiative to launch a constellation of thousands of satellites into low-to-medium Earth orbit to provide low-latency broadband coverage to the Earth below. The company has more than 2,400 satellites in orbit so farand after exiting beta testing near the end of last year, the company recently boasted of having 400,000 users. Customers who want to order Starlink must buy the kit – which comes with a user terminal – for $599 and then pay a monthly fee of $110.
However, SpaceX has made it clear that it wants to expand Starlink beyond just domestic customer use. The company is in talks with various airlines to use the Starlink Internet service and has deals with Hawaiian Airlines and private jet service JSX to begin providing Internet connectivity to their planes in the next few years. In addition, Starlink has just launched a new level of special service for RVs that allows users to connect to Starlink satellites from multiple locations such as campsites or vacation cabins, without a set “home” address for an additional fee. However, at the time of the announcement, subscribers could not use the dishes while their RVs or vans were in motion.