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SES, Starlink team to set new benchmark with first integrated MEO-LEO service

SES Cruise mPOWERED + Starlink promises to provide high-speed and secure connectivity 24/7 to cruise ships, regardless of their route and location
Thanks to integrating Starlink’s low earth orbit (LEO) and SES’s medium earth orbit (MEO) services, cruise lines can now depend on a single managed solution to reap the benefits of low-latency, high-throughput satellite connectivity.

This new joint offering — SES Cruise mPOWERED + Starlink – seamlessly integrated, sold and delivered by SES – combines the benefits of MEO and LEO to provide high-speed and secure 24/7 connectivity to cruise ships, regardless of their route and location.

Simplified end-to-end solution

'The cruise lines want a simplified end-to-end solution that has multiple connections off the ship for resiliency and reliability. With the combination of our MEO service and Starlink, they get the best of both worlds in a package we install, we support, we commission and we optimize,' Greg Martin, VP maritime market at SES, told Seatrade Cruise News.

SES has a decade of experience running a multi-orbit geostationary (GEO) and MEO-enabled system for cruise ships. Together with the truly global, high-throughput LEO, 'This combination strengthens the product we're offering and the service to the cruise lines,' Martin said. 'There should be much better connectivity everywhere.'

Even traditionally challenging areas such as Alaska and the northern Baltic and Scandinavia 'will see improved service with the combined product.'

'We are excited to collaborate with SES on a joint solution that combines the reach and capacity of both satellite constellations to offer a solution unlike any other in the market,' said Chad Gibbs, SpaceX’s VP of Starlink business operations.

1.5 Gbps or 3 Gbps per ship as standard

SES Cruise mPOWERED + Starlink is available in two tiers — Premium (3 Gbps/ship), for the leading ships to deliver the highest throughput in the industry, or Pro (1.5 Gbps/ship), for operators who wish to manage user experience by matching the right application to the right orbit.

Martin said this is enough throughput for all the passengers and crew to have a great experience and for the ship to work properly. 

'A few ships offer that kind of throughput,' he said, 'but us offering that as a standard product is big news. There hasn't been a standard at the 1.5 Gbps and 3 Gbps level offered to the cruise market before ... It's setting a new benchmark standard of that level of throughput in the industry.'

Standardizing this high level of throughout is something neither SES nor Starlink could do independently. 'Together, it's much more powerful,' Martin said. 'And the guests should see that as a better experience.'

Available starting this fall

SES Cruise mPOWERED + Starlink will become available starting this fall, with rapid expansion expected in 2024. 

SES is already talking with customers — who include Princess Cruises, MSC Cruises and Virgin Voyages, among others — about upgrading to the new Premium or Pro products. 'There's a lot of interest. I think this is going to be widely deployed and very successful,' Martin said.

According to him, the service will be very competitively priced for MEO and a portion of LEO: 'The benefit is you get a lot more value for the combined product. We're the support vehicle. We optimize the service.'

Standardized hardware

The hardware required is SES's standard MEO kit, typically three Intellian antennas — which many ships already have — and at least 10 Starlink high throughput terminals. Many customers have different numbers of Starlink antennas — two, four or six. With Cruise mPOWERED + Starlink, there will be a standard approach to ensure consistency.

The majority of the service will be split right down the middle between SES and Starlink, with the system optimized to use whatever connection is best for the type of service used. If it's something that requires high uploads, such as a big video file, it likely will go on the MEO channel because SES has a much higher throughput with its dedicated return. If it's something that requires lower latency, the connection may go via LEO.

Happier guests

With SES Cruise mPOWERED + Starlink, 'We're optimizing the connection between Starlink and our MEO service so you have the best possible experience,' Martin said. 'And it's much simpler for the cruise lines to manage and support this, and we think that's going to lead to happier guests.'