Despite limited ocean coverage as its constellation grows, Elon Musk-owned Starlink has been signing distribution agreements to help make a move into shipping
Tototheo Maritime, Speedcast, Castor Maritime and IEC Telecom have all become official maritime resellers of Starlink’s expanding satellite services.
Starlink is a constellation of thousands of satellites being launched into low earth orbit by Elon Musk’s SpaceX. There are currently over 3,333 satellites out of an initial reported number 12,000 in service.
Starlink’s initial objective has been to offer low earth orbit satellites that can provide broadband speed connectivity with very low latency (the time it takes a signal to go from ground station to satellite to antenna or vice versa). The first users have been mostly land based consumers in North America and other areas with initial coverage, with maritime users limited to specific coastal regions. With more satellites now in orbit the service is now more readily available for maritime users including enterprise.
The move to use resellers and distributors in industry is an interesting one according to Valour Consultancy, a UK-based satellite connectivity intelligence company.
“While initially, Starlink sold direct to the market, this has changed in recent months with the growth of reseller agreements. This change makes Starlink a highly interesting case, particularly due to the suspected impact on the market,” said Valour researcher Alishia Sims.
“The popularity of Starlink is due to the need of the shipping industry to continually adopt new innovative technologies. The low latency and high-speed bandwidth is particularly attractive to its consumers.
Another major success of Starlink is its global impact. The mega-constellation has recently increased its fame due to its impact on the war in Ukraine. Connectivity, provided by Starlink, has become vital to the Ukrainian war effort, due to its resistance to jamming and hacking, and invulnerability to anti-satellite missiles.”
However, there have been some issues regarding Starlink’s continuous growth. While they are becoming a larger player in the market, it has been reported that the satellite operator is having congestion issues throughout their largest concentrated market in the US and Canada.
Sims said the operator currently does not have the capacity to meet the demand with average speeds sometimes reduced to 10 to 20 Mega bites per second, but an expected launch of a further 7,500 satellites will make an impact.
“Overall, while the full impact of Starlink remains to be seen, the waves it is currently making cannot be denied. It is expected that its continued growth is going to be highly impactful on the market”.
For incumbent satellite companies like Inmarsat and Iridium the Starlink services offers a threat of some kind due to its pricing model and promise of low latency with high speed (359/40 Mbps) . However as with other Ku band signals they can be disrupted by poor weather and other anomalies.
Starlink does not offer SOLAS compliant connectivity either, something that Inmarsat and now Iridium can do with their offering. The Global Maritime Distress and Safety System (GMDSS) requirements mean vessels at sea must have a level of connectivity under the SOLAS agreement to be able to send and receive distress calls.
For many of the resellers and distributers of Starlink, the main purpose for these terminals will be as additional connectivity at an affordable price.
Starlink sells two receiving antenna and a router which it says can be easily installed on small pleasure craft and other vessels. For the resellers it will be a chance to work with shipping companies to offer a range of integrated solutions as shipping companies advance their connectivity requirements.
Oneweb is another company launching a large number of low earth orbit satellites to compete in the satellite communication race, and have a focus on maritime and ocean services. Notably OneWeb has just launched 40 satellites, on a SpaceX rocket (SpaceX owns Starlink) to bring its fleet in orbit to 80% of its planned total.
Known maritime resellers of Starlink are:
Marlink, Speedcast, Elcome, IEC Mobile, Castor, Clarus, Tampnet, Tototheo Maritime.