Modern ships function as floating offices where a reliable network connection can help optimize operations and enhance life onboard. Credit: Viasat

TAMPA, Fla. — Geostationary fleet operator Viasat is buying capacity from OneWeb’s low Earth orbit (LEO) satellites for maritime customers in the latest multi-orbit challenge to Starlink’s growing dominance. 

Viasat said May 20 its Inmarsat Maritime subsidiary would manage the new NexusWave network, integrating its satellites in Ka and L-band with low-latency OneWeb services in Ku-band. 

While vessels would need to install separate terminals to tap into constellations operating under different spectrum bands, Viasat said the unified service simplifies operations for maritime operators seeking more data and speeds across various regions.

“Meeting all these requirements typically relies on multiple, disjointed solutions,” Inmarsat Maritime president Ben Palmer said, “resulting in a complex patchwork of data caps, speeds, and coverage, in addition to unverifiable cyber security.”

NexusWave would also integrate Viasat’s terrestrial LTE tower network, where available, for ships near the coast.

Viasat declined to provide financial details about the arrangement with OneWeb, which was recently acquired by legacy geostationary operator Eutelsat, and did not provide a timeframe for the service.

Ground segment delays have been holding back OneWeb’s global coverage targets since the start of this year, including across large oceanic regions.

Inmarsat Maritime’s Fleet Xpress service, using the company’s Ka-band Global Xpress satellites, currently provides connectivity to around 14,000 vessels worldwide. Its main customers are commercial maritime operators, offshore energy platforms, and high-end fishing businesses.

SpaceX’s LEO Starlink network is increasingly winning business in these and other enterprise and government broadband markets after initially focusing only on residential consumer broadband.

LEO satellites can provide lower latency broadband with greater coverage than geostationary spacecraft much farther away from Earth — particularly important for vessels and other customers on the move. 

Legacy operators of geostationary satellites, which say they are still better suited for beaming larger amounts of capacity to high-traffic areas, have been buying or partnering with LEO networks for the multi-orbit capability they see as key to keeping up with competition.

Geostationary operator Intelsat has also bought a chunk of OneWeb capacity, mainly for the aviation market.

But while Starlink mostly operates under a single-orbit strategy, the company last year partnered with geostationary and medium Earth orbit operator SES to jointly serve cruise line operators.

Jason Rainbow writes about satellite telecom, space finance and commercial markets for SpaceNews. He has spent more than a decade covering the global space industry as a business journalist. Previously, he was Group Editor-in-Chief for Finance Information...