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