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SES Teams Up with Starlink to Package Connectivity for the Cruise Segment 

By Mark Holmes, Rachel Jewett | September 13, 2023

      Photo: SES

      SES is bringing a new multi-orbit hybrid connectivity solution to the cruise industry, integrating SpaceX‘s Starlink connectivity into its offering for cruise companies. The joint offering announced Wednesday is SES Cruise mPOWERED + Starlink. The solution will be available in the fourth quarter of this year. 

      The product will be integrated, sold, and delivered by SES. The operator pitched it as combining the best of Medium-Earth Orbit (MEO) and Low-Earth Orbit (LEO) for high-speed and secure cruise connectivity. The solution is available in either a Premium tier at 3Gbps per ship, or the Pro tier at 1.5 Gbp per ship.

      While this is not the first agreement for Starlink to work with an integrator, it’s the first time a major operator is delivering that managed service. 

      The agreement came about through customer demand, SES Chief Strategy Officer John-Paul Hemingway said during a panel on Wednesday at World Satellite Business Week.

      As cruise lines that have deals with SES adopted Starlink, those cruise lines gave SES the feedback that their customers liked Starlink, but they wanted O3b mPOWER as well for the service level agreement. Cruise lines want a full forward and return capability for certain passenger applications and ship operations, guaranteed service levels, and flexible capacity. 

      “Independently, we could probably both do the service [in terms of bandwidth], but it’s a way more effective service that gives the best of both constellations to our customer base,” Hemingway said. “I think our customers are massively interested. We’re in early conversations and we’ve done some trials. This is going to give a great hybrid service.”

      SES has the analytics capabilities onboard vessels to look at an application level and set which applications will travel over which constellations, Hemingway said. 

      Jonathan Hofeller, vice president of Starlink and Commercial Sales for SpaceX, said the past year since Starlink has been working with integrators has been an “educational process,” describing some challenges of merging SpaceX’s way of business with resellers. 

      “We’re seeing that customers do prefer additional services such as cybersecurity, install, and customer support, above and beyond low-latency capacity,” Hofeller said. 

      Starlink is “nimble” in how quickly it adjusts its offerings, Hofeller said, and that’s been a challenge at times while working with service providers. “We have to be smarter at how nimbleness affects our resellers,” he said. 

      SES said this new, managed solution will create an “entirely new standard for ship connectivity worldwide,” pitching that it will minimize upfront investment and ongoing expenditures for customers. 

      “By being the only one in the cruise industry to expand our unique multi-orbit GEO and MEO network to utilize LEO, we believe it opens new opportunities for us to meet the needs of cruise guests and crew members, and the operational requirements of cruise operators to accelerate their digital transformations,” Hemingway said in a statement. 

      SES didn’t specify which customers have shown interest so far, but SES customer Carnival Cruise Lines signed a deal for Starlink earlier this year. 

      SpaceX’s deals in the cruise industry also include Norwegian Cruise Line, Royal Caribbean Group and both brand’s additional cruise lines, as well as smaller lines American Cruise Lines and Windstar Cruises.