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Google Cloud Signs Deal with SpaceX to Connect with Starlink Satellites

By Rachel Jewett | May 13, 2021

A SpaceX Starlink user terminal. Photo: SpaceX

Google Cloud has signed a deal with SpaceX to connect its Starlink internet consetllation to Google’s cloud services. Under the deal Google announced Thursday, SpaceX will locate Starlink ground stations within Google data center properties and connect Starlink to Google Cloud’s infrastructure. 

Google Cloud’s private network will support Starlink internet service to business and consumers. Google said that this combination will support public sector agencies and businesses working at the network edge, or those operating in rural or remote areas, to use cloud applications, or to cloud services like analytics, artificial intelligence, or machine learning. 

“Applications and services running in the cloud can be transformative for organizations, whether they’re operating in a highly networked or remote environment,” commented Urs Hölzle, senior vice president of Infrastructure at Google Cloud. “We are delighted to partner with SpaceX to ensure that organizations with distributed footprints have seamless, secure, and fast access to the critical applications and services they need to keep their teams up and running.”

The announcement said this new capability for enterprise customers will be delivered by Google Cloud and Starlink starting in the second half of 2021, but did not offer more specific details about service plans.

Starlink is SpaceX’s constellation of more than 1,500 satellites designed to provide high speed, low latency broadband internet from space. The service is currently in beta testing and is available in parts of the United States, United Kingdom, Western Germany, and the south island of New Zealand.

SpaceX has not announced any type of “Starlink for business” plan, and the terms of service for Starlink pre-order specify that the service must be for residential use. SpaceX did not respond immediately Thursday for a request to comment on potential future business offerings. 

“Combining Starlink’s high-speed, low-latency broadband with Google’s infrastructure and capabilities provides global organizations with the secure and fast connection that modern organizations expect,” SpaceX President and COO Gwynne Shotwell said in Thursday’s release. “We are proud to work with Google to deliver this access to businesses, public sector organizations, and many other groups operating around the world.”

[Read more: Gwynne Shotwell Talks Starlink in Conversation With Via Satellite]

This is SpaceX’s second cloud services deal for Starlink, after the company previously announced a similar collaboration with Microsoft Azure. Under that deal, announced in October 2020, Microsoft plans to give its customers satellite connectivity via Starlink, and connect Starlink with its Modular Datacenter (MDC) offering, which provides cloud computing in challenging environments.

Satellite players overall are cutting deals to combine their connectivity with cloud service. SES, for example, plans to connect its O3b constellation to Microsoft’s MDCs, and also works with Microsoft for cloud-enabled video playout services. Telesat is working with Québec-based CloudOps to build the cloud infrastructure for its Lightspeed constellation.

NSR Senior Analyst Shiva Muruganandham said this deal validates the ongoing relationship that Google has with SpaceX, as it has invested in the company in the past. Also, SpaceX’s partnerships with both Google Cloud and Microsoft demonstrate a hybrid, multi-cloud approach from the satellite operator, looking to make its Starlink system interoperable with different systems.

Overall, Muruganandham pointed to the inroads that cloud providers have made in the satellite industry, and this deal is another example of that. Allowing cloud providers direct peering into satellite networks is a benefit to provide cloud-based applications to end users in cruise, maritime, energy, mining, and energy, he said.

“It seems to be a long play in terms of increasing the amount of data traffic over the networks, while ensuring all the existing and upcoming systems, the next generation, are cloud ready,” Muruganandham said. “The other part is being able to provide direct cloud access capabilities to increase the network usage among their customers.”

He said these cloud deals could lead to greater adoption of satcom services over time.

“[The industry] will probably be able to tap into a larger addressable market for satellite communications, because you’re able to provide these low latency cloud services for the customer,” Muruganandham said.