The FCC approves the use of SpaceX’s Starlink system in moving vehicles

Today, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) gave SpaceX permission to use its Starlink satellite internet system for moving vehicles — including cars, trucks, boats, and planes. It’s a big win for SpaceX’s Starlink system, potentially opening the service to a wider range of use cases and customers.

SpaceX applied to the FCC for regulatory approval in March last year to allow Earth Stations in Motion (ESIM) Starlink terminals to be used in moving vehicles. To tap into the system and get broadband internet coverage, customers must purchase a personal ground-based antenna or user terminal designed to connect to any orbiting Starlink satellites that happen to be overhead. Previously, these keys had to remain in a fixed location in order to access the system.

Now the FCC has granted SpaceX’s application — as well as another satellite company, Kepler Communications — paving the way for a new class of user terminals that can connect to broadband satellites on the go. The FCC rejected a petition by Dish Network to block the companies from using spectrum in the 12 GHz band. However, the FCC will continue to conduct analysis as it proceeds with rulemaking on the presence of ESIM devices in the 12GHz band, and said Kepler and SpaceX will be subject to any future rules it makes.

The FCC argues that approving the new capability is in the public interest. “We agree with SpaceX and Kepler that the public interest would benefit if their requests were granted with conditions,” the FCC wrote in its June 30 approval. “The authorization of a new class of terminals for SpaceX’s satellite system will expand the range of broadband capabilities to meet the growing demands of users who now require connectivity on the go, whether driving an RV across the country or moving one Freighters from Europe to a US port, or on a domestic or international flight.”

Starlink is SpaceX’s ambitious initiative to launch a constellation of thousands of satellites into low-to-medium Earth orbit to provide low-latency, broadband coverage of the Earth below. The company has more than 2,400 satellites in orbit to date, and after coming out of beta testing late last year, the company recently boasted 400,000 users. Customers wishing to order Starlink must purchase the kit — which comes with a user terminal — for $599 and then pay a $110 monthly fee.

However, SpaceX has made it clear that it plans to expand Starlink beyond consumer use. The company has been negotiating with various airlines to use Starlink’s internet service, and has struck deals with Hawaiian Airlines and private jet service JSX to begin providing internet connectivity on their planes over the next few years. In addition, Starlink has just launched a new special tier of service for RVs, allowing users to connect to Starlink satellites from multiple locations, such as campgrounds or cabins, without an assigned “home” address for an additional fee. However, at the time of the announcement, subscribers could not use the harness while their RVs or vans were on the move.