Tue. Oct 3rd, 2023
Traditional Satellite Operators Positioning to Compete with SpaceX’s Starlink

With SpaceX’s Starlink constellation dominating the space-based communications market, traditional satellite operators are positioning themselves to compete with the billionaire-owned company, particularly in military and government services. Executives at U.K.-based OneWeb and Luxembourg-based Intelsat see opportunities to join SpaceX in meeting increasing connectivity demands.

OneWeb, which emerged from bankruptcy in 2020 and underwent financial restructuring, has launched hundreds of satellites to low Earth orbit (LEO) and expects to achieve full global coverage by early next year. The company announced that Britain’s Royal Fleet Auxiliary ship, Argus, had connected to its LEO constellation, marking the first time a military vessel deployed its SATCOM services. OneWeb also unveiled a portable, lightweight terminal that brings broadband connectivity to users in remote areas, catering to military operators and rescue crews in hard-to-reach locations. The impending merger with Eutelsat will expand OneWeb’s coverage to new orbits.

Intelsat, on the other hand, established a global government and satellite services business in January, focusing on growing its work with international allies. The company offers core SATCOM services and assists customers in designing, building, launching, and operating their satellites. Intelsat plans to expand its global satellite network to include operations in medium Earth orbit.

While SpaceX’s success with Starlink has pushed its competitors to up their game and make new investments, concerns have been raised about relying on a single commercial provider for crucial capabilities. The U.S. Defense Department has formalized an agreement with SpaceX for Starlink services, but military leaders are wary of commercial companies refusing services in times of conflict.

Although Starlink’s fleet is much larger than those of OneWeb and Intelsat, both companies have distinct customer bases and are less focused on the mass consumer market. They aim to provide connectivity to high-end industries, military organizations, and government agencies.

To stay competitive, OneWeb is designing its next generation of LEO satellites to be dual-use, catering to both military and commercial requirements. Meanwhile, Intelsat is expanding its business with international allies who require beyond-line-of-sight communications, as they operate in austere environments with less infrastructure.