Aviation internet market ripe for overhaul

A passenger plane takes off from Frankfurt Airport. The aviation industry has been hit particularly hard by the impact of the global Corona pandemic.

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WASHINGTON — Elon Musk’s SpaceX believes an aviation-specific antenna could be revolutionary for connecting Starlink, its global high-speed internet service, to aircraft.

“Aircraft connectivity is something we think is ripe for an overhaul,” said Jonathan Hofeller, vice president of SpaceX, at Monday’s Satellite 2022 conference here.

In-flight connectivity is a market that SpaceX has talked about disrupting since the company began offering Starlink service. Hofeller said airline passengers’ expectations for internet services “have changed faster than technology has changed,” creating an opportunity for Starlink.

“Our approach to connectivity in the air is like at home: you walk into your house and the internet just works. It’s simple. It’s high speed,” Hofeller said.

Airlines are working with satellite broadband providers for onboard Wi-Fi, with Viasat and Intelsat — the latter of which bought Gogo’s commercial airline business — two such companies adding connectivity to flights from airlines such as Delta, JetBlue, American Airlines and United. But while existing services use satellites in distant orbits, Starlink satellites orbit closer to Earth and can increase the speeds passengers see in flight. In addition, the global network of Starlink satellites would mean that aircraft can connect to the Internet without interruption.

“We believe in a future where connectivity is abundant, you don’t scrap here for kilobits per second. It’s so much that people get on the plane and they stream them just like they do at home, so we’re designing a service that would suit every passenger on that plan. can stream simultaneously if needed,” Hofeller said.

SpaceX is testing aviation-specific Starlink terminals, also known as satellite antennas, on aircraft. Hofeller stressed that SpaceX is also currently “going through the certifications” to get the terminals approved with a variety of aircraft, a regulatory hurdle to enter the in-flight connectivity market.

A series of Starlink satellites enter orbit after a launch on November 13, 2021.

SpaceX

A conference attendee, who identified himself as an employee of aircraft manufacturer Embraer, asked for more details. Hofeller said SpaceX is working on making the Starlink terminals “smaller and lighter,” but said no further. Hofeller invited the Embraer representative to speak privately with SpaceX “about the technology we have on the aviation side.”

SpaceX has launched about 2,000 Starlink satellites to support its global network so far.

Hofeller said SpaceX currently has about 250,000 Starlink subscribers, a number that includes both consumer and business customers. Starlink users pay $99 per month for the standard service and $500 per month for the premium tier.

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