SpaceXs Starlink Wants To Provide Your In-Flight WiFi

Illustration for article titled SpaceXs Starlink Wants To Provide Your In-Flight WiFi

Photo: MARIANA SUAREZ / Contributor (Getty Images)

Theres no faster way to win the hearts and minds of the people than by bringing them fast, reliable internet on an airplane. Elon Musk knows this, and thats maybe why his space company, SpaceX, is reportedly in talks with several airlines in a bid to provide their crafts with WiFi via the companys growing internet satellite network, Starlink.

On Wednesday, Jonathan Hofeller SpaceXs VP of Starlink and commercial sales told a panel at the Connected Aviation Intelligence Summit that the company is forging ahead with its plans to shift itssatellite-linked broadband network from servicing predominantly rural homes to more commercial interests by the end of 2021.

Were in talks with several of the airlines, Hofeller told the panel. We have our own aviation product in development weve already done some demonstrations to date, and looking to get that product finalized to be put on aircraft in the very near future.

SpaceX began a beta rollout of its Starlink satellites in 2018 in order to cover a global dearth of broadband internet connections, particularly in rural areas where fiber connections generally arent readily available. Under the beta plan, most Starlink customers pay a one-time fee of $499 for a bundle that includes a self-aligning Starlink dish and Wi-Fi router, and then $99 per month for monthly internet services after that. In the years since it first launched, the company has launched nearly 1,800 Starlink satellites out of the 4,400 it estimates it would need in order to provide global coverage.

Starlinks internet service relies on a model of low Earth orbit, wherein its satellite clusters sit closer to the planet than the far-flung geostationary orbits of the larger internet satellites that typically provide internet service to commercial planes. Its technology thats currently being trumpeted by executives as the main reason potential clients should choose Starlink over its outmoded rivals and its also the same technology currently being utilized by a growing pack of competitors. Amazon recently announced plans for a 3,000 satellite-strong low orbit mega-constellation of its own, and the UKs OneWeb has already launched 182 of a roughly 640 planned satellites.

All in all, passengers and customers want a great experience that [geostationary] systems simply cannot provide, Hofeller said on the panel. So its going to be up to the individual airline whether they want to be responsive to that, or if theyre okay with having a system that is not as responsive to their customers demand.

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