FCC Approves SpaceX Starlink Service for Vehicles, Boats and Aircraft

The Starlink logo can be seen in the background of a woman in silhouette holding a mobile phone.

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The Federal Communications Commission has authorized SpaceX to provide Starlink satellite internet to moving vehicles, an important step for Elon Musk’s company to further expand the service.

“Authorize a new class of [customer] terminals for SpaceX’s satellite system will expand the range of broadband capabilities to meet growing demand from users who now require connectivity while on the move, whether driving a motorhome across the country, a freighter from Europe to a US port moving or on a domestic or international flight,” Tom Sullivan, chief of the FCC’s international office, wrote in the authorization posted Thursday.

SpaceX did not immediately respond to CNBC’s request for comment on the FCC decision.

Starlink is SpaceX’s network of satellites in low Earth orbit, designed to provide high-speed internet anywhere in the world. SpaceX has launched approximately 2,700 satellites to support the global network, with a base price of the service costs users $110 per month† In May, SpaceX told the FCC that Starlink had over 400,000 subscribers

SpaceX has early deals with commercial airlines signed in preparation for this decision: It has pacts with Hawaiian Airlines and semi-private charter provider JSX to provide Wi-Fi on airplanes. So far, SpaceX has been approved to conduct a limited number of onboard tests, view the aviation Wi-Fi market as “ripe for an overhaul”.

The FCC authorization also includes connecting to ships and vehicles such as trailers and motorhomes, with SpaceX asking last year to expand from serving regular customers. SpaceX had already deployed a version of its service called “Starlink for RVs”, with an additional “portability” fee† But portability is not the same as mobility, which is what the FCC decision now allows.

The FCC imposed conditions on in-motion Starlink service. SpaceX is required to “accept any interference received from both current and future authorized services,” and further investments in Starlink will “assume the risk that operations may be subject to additional terms or requirements” from the FCC.

The verdict is not resolved a wider regulatory dispute over SpaceX with Dish Network and RS Access, an entity backed by billionaire Michael Dell, on the use of 12-gigahertz band – a frequency range used for broadband communications. The FCC continues to analyze whether the band can support both ground-based and space-based services, with SpaceX urging the regulator to make a ruling.

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