SpaceX’s Starlink is in talks with ‘several’ airlines for in-flight Wi-Fi

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The team behind SpaceX’s growing satellite internet network Starlink is in talks with “several” airlines to beam internet to their airplanes, the project’s vice president said during a conference panel on Wednesday. Expanding Starlink from rural homes and onto airlines is an expected move for Elon Musk’s space company as it races to open the broadband network commercially later this year.

“We’re in talks with several of the airlines,” Jonathan Hofeller, SpaceX’s VP of Starlink and commercial sales, told a panel at the Connected Aviation Intelligence Summit on Wednesday. “We have our own aviation product in development… we’ve already done some demonstrations to date, and looking to get that product finalized to be put on aircraft in the very near future.”

Aircraft antennas will be like the consumer ones, “with obvious enhancements for aviation connectivity”
Since 2018, SpaceX has launched nearly 1,800 Starlink satellites out of the roughly 4,400 it needs to provide global coverage of broadband internet, primarily for rural homes where fiber connections aren’t available. The company is in the midst of a Starlink beta phase that promises up to 100Mbps download and 20Mbps upload speeds, with tens of thousands of users so far. Most are paying $99 per month for internet under that beta, using a $499 bundle of a self-aligning Starlink dish and Wi-Fi router.

Last year, SpaceX filed plans to test Starlink on five Gulfstream jets. And in March, SpaceX sought FCC approval to use Starlink with so-called Earth Stations in Motion — industry jargon to refer to basically any vehicle that would receive a signal, including cars, trucks, maritime vessels, and aircraft. Musk clarified on Twitter at the time: “Not connecting Tesla cars to Starlink, as our terminal is much too big. This is for aircraft, ships, large trucks & RVs.” Another FCC filing from last Friday requested approval for testing across five US states of an updated receiver with a square-shaped antenna, a basic design commonly associated with aircraft antennae.

Hofeller said the design for SpaceX’s airline antennas will be very similar to the technology inside its consumer terminals, but “with obvious enhancements for aviation connectivity.” Like those consumer antennas, the aviation hardware will be designed and built by SpaceX, he said. The airborne antennas could link with ground stations to communicate with Starlink satellites.

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