Elon Musk’s satellite-delivered internet service, SpaceX, has been cleared in the US to enter the WiFi on Trains market. The Federal Communications Commission gave the go-ahead just prior to Independence Day in America.
Musk’s company has long harboured ambitions to target trains and other vehicles with on-board WiFi services. In April of this year, SpaceX signed its first deal to provide in-flight WiFi supplied by the Starlink satellite network and the company is competing to provide high-speed internet to other commercial passenger services.
In the authorisation letter, the FCC stated - "We agree with SpaceX... that the public interest would benefit by granting with conditions their applications. Authorizing a new class of terminals for SpaceX’s satellite system will expand the range of broadband capabilities to meet the growing user demands that now require connectivity while on the move.”
Since 2019, SpaceX has launched over 2,000 Starlink satellites into low-Earth orbit and currently offers broadband internet to a limited number of rural customers for approximately US$1,200 a year. In addition to the monthly charges, subscribers pay around US$600 for a terminal dish the size of two laptops.
Musk, not known for his reticence, has frequently boasted of SpaceX’s ambitions to connect transport systems with its Starlink satellite constellation. He has made no secret of the fact that he is keen to put satellite connections onto trains in Europe and North America.
His company has permission to launch a total of 4,400 satellites operating at 550km (340 miles) above Earth. In 2020, Musk claimed that the company's dishes could be deployed on high-speed moving objects, like trains, because "everything is slow to a phased array antenna”.
According to SpaceX's director of satellite policy, David Goldman, “These user terminals employ advanced phased-array beam-forming and digital processing technologies to make highly efficient use of Ku-band spectrum resources by supporting highly directive, antenna beams that point and track the system's low-Earth orbit satellites.”
Musk has said SpaceX only intends to serve about 3% of American households. That wouldn't make it a threat to the likes of Verizon or AT&T, but it could give it an advantage over traditional satellite providers that serve cruise ships, the trucking industry and public transport systems.
Satellite communications featured in several projects in the pioneering days of on-train WiFi. GNER, as was, employed it to provide in-fill coverage and terrestrial back-up between 2004 and 2010 and SNCF and Thalys ran satellite links to trains for several years before deciding that the associated operational and maintenance costs were too high.
More recently, however, changes in antenna technology, lower data costs and increased demand for blanket coverage has led to a renewal of interest in what satellites can offer the rail industry. This, combined with a more compatible link-up with emerging 5G services, means that satellite companies are no longer left on the outside looking in.
Satellite connectivity to trains, track-side coverage and new innovations in the rail industry using wireless connectivity will feature heavily in this year’s Traincomms Conference in October (www.Traincomms.com ).
The Full Programme is Available now at the website, where you can also sign up for our Free WiFi on Trains News Service (www.Traincomms.com ).
Or, to discuss exhibiting at the conference, please contact Ross.Parsons@BWCS.com
This year’s Conference is sponsored by Westermo, Nomad, GlobalReach Technology and RADWIN