WASHINGTON — If you can’t beat them, join them. That is the thinking behind a new managed network service offered by satellite operator Intelsat that integrates geostationary satellites, SpaceX’s Starlink low Earth orbit constellation and cellular broadband.
“A lot of our customers would like to use Starlink and many have been using it,” Don Claussen, Intelsat’s vice president of business development, told SpaceNews at last week’s Satellite 2022 conference.
Satellite communications companies “spend so much time fighting each other over what orbits are better, what band is better,” he said. “If we’re really listening to our customers, what they are saying is ‘we kind of need all of you.’”
Intelsat is buying Starlink terminals and services and reselling them as part of a multi-layer, multi-orbit managed network that includes geostationary satcom and LTE connectivity. “We combine them in one gateway so the user has one interface,” said Claussen.
The company in November demonstrated a multi-orbit network with OneWeb but that constellation is not yet able to provide global coverage.
“We’re still working with OneWeb but they’re just not as far along as Starlink,” Claussen said. “And our government users have been testing Starlink terminals. So we already see that demand is there.”
Intelsat operates 52 geostationary satellites. Starting this month, users of the company’s Flex satcom service can opt for a bundle with the Starlink service and cellular. “Our government customers can get the whole package and just pay one bill,” said Claussen. Starlink has more than 2,000 operational satellites in orbit.
A key target customer for the service is the Defense Department, he said. Military units could bring the entire network to the field in two large suitcases, he said. One would have a Satcube geostationary terminal, cables and a gateway. The other would have the Starlink terminal and cables, and they would all plug into the gateway.
The Starlink setup is relatively easy, said Claussen. “I actually had my daughter do it a couple of weeks ago at my house.”
Starlink has been “great to work with,” he added. “And the feedback that we got from customers about it is that it makes sense. Now the government and the industry have to come together to figure out how we get this in the hands of users.”