Today, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) authorized SpaceX to use its Starlink satellite internet system on moving vehicles — including cars, trucks, boats and airplanes. It’s a big win for SpaceX’s Starlink system, potentially opening up the service to a more diverse set of usage scenarios and customers.
SpaceX requested regulatory approval from the FCC in March last year to allow Earth Stations in Motion (ESIM) Starlink terminals to be used in moving vehicles. To access the system and receive broadband internet coverage, customers must purchase a personal ground antenna or user terminal designed to connect to any orbiting Starlink satellites that happen to be overhead. Until now, those dishes had to remain in a permanent place to access the system.
Now, the FCC has granted SpaceX’s request — as well as a request from another satellite company, Kepler Communications — to pave the way for a new class of user terminals that can connect to broadband-beaming satellites on the go. While the FCC did this, the FCC chose to reject a petition from Dish Network seeking to prevent the companies from using frequencies in the 12GHz band. However, the FCC will continue to conduct analysis as it continues to create rules about the presence of ESIM devices in the 12GHz band and said Kepler and SpaceX will be subject to any future rules it sets.
The FCC states that approval of the new capability is in the public interest. “We agree with SpaceX and Kepler that the public interest would benefit if we allowed their applications subject to conditions,” the FCC wrote in its June 30 authorization. “Authorizing a new class of terminals for SpaceX’s satellite system will expand the range of broadband capabilities to meet the growing demand from users who now require connectivity while on the go, whether driving a motorhome across the country or a cargo ship from Europe to a US port, or 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 Earth below. The company has more than 2,400 satellites in orbit to date, and after coming out of beta late last year, the company recently boasted it had 400,000 users. Customers wishing to order Starlink will need to purchase 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 private use. The company has negotiated with several airlines to use Starlink internet service and has deals with Hawaiian Airlines and private jet service JSX to begin providing internet connectivity on their planes in the coming years. In addition, Starlink just rolled out a new special RV service level that allows users to connect to Starlink satellites from multiple locations, such as campgrounds or vacation cabins, without an assigned “home” address for an additional fee. However, at the time of the announcement, subscribers were unable to use the dishes while their RVs or vans were in motion.