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Elon Musk's Starlink and Dubai's Elcome join forces to provide internet to maritime sector

January 9, 2023

The service will connect vessels to internet speeds that are up to 100 times faster than traditional satellite services

Starlink, the satellite internet service operated by Elon Musk's aerospace company SpaceX, has joined forces with Dubai-based marine electronics company Elcome International to provide internet services to the maritime industry.

The service, which uses Starlink's low-Earth orbit satellites — the largest constellation of satellites at such an altitude — will connect vessels, such as merchant ships, oil rigs and luxury yachts, to internet speeds that are up to 100 times faster than traditional satellite services, Elcome said on Monday.

Elcome will equip its customers with advanced solutions that leverage the capabilities of Starlink. Orders will be fulfilled from Elcome's logistics hubs in Dubai, Singapore and Spain with a variety of installation and support options available, the company added.

'The UAE is a global hub of the maritime industry, and we are uniquely positioned and equipped to broaden the installed base of Starlink in vessels operating in the Middle East, the Mediterranean and Indian Ocean,' Jimmy Grewal, executive director of Elcome, told The National.

'With Starlink’s global service available globally in international waters, we have an aggressive plan to leverage our base in the UAE to bring the benefits of this amazing service to as many customers as possible.'

Starlink is a satellite constellation service that provides internet access using satellites that orbit the planet at between heights of 200km and 2,000km.

For perspective, the Internationa Space Station orbits at 408km, while the Hubble Space Telescope is at 547km.

The service provides high-speed, low-latency broadband internet. Within each coverage area, orders are fulfilled on a first-come, first-served basis.

Satellite internet is a viable option compared to regular internet services. For instance, to have access to the internet using a 5G or any broadband connection, a device must be within range of a cell tower.

The closer a user is to the cell tower, the better and faster the connection should be. With a satellite, you can gain access to the internet even in the middle of nowhere.

'This reduction in latency [with Starlink] is especially apparent in voice and video calls, where the delay in conversations is hardly noticeable compared to traditional satellite voice communication systems,' Mr Grewal said.

The global LEO satellite market is forecast to reach more than $34 billion by 2030, growing at a compound annual rate of almost 17 per cent from 2022 to 2030, data from Verified Market Research shows.

For the maritime industry, users can experience download speeds of up to 350Mbps while at sea, even from 'the most remote waters in the world', according to Starlink.

Another benefit of Starlink’s LEO constellation is its smaller, lighter, simpler and cheaper antennae, Mr Grewal said.

Starlink's flat, high-performance antennae weighs less than 7kg, are less than 60 square centimetres, contains no moving parts and can withstand winds of up to 280km an hour.

'This means that it can be accommodated on a range of vessel types upon which traditional satcom domes are impractical or impossible to install,' Mr Grewal said.

In addition to withstanding extreme cold, heat, hail, sleet, heavy rain and gale-force winds, Starlink can also hold up against rocket engines, according to its website.

Starlink is currently available in 45 countries, the latest being Finland, where services were activated in November.

It is, however, not available in the UAE. The company has given no indication when the service will be available in the Emirates.

'Elcome is looking forward to providing the service to more customers in the coming months,' Mr Grewal said.