Speedcast plotting major satellite capacity expansion

TAMPA, Fla. — Remote communications provider Speedcast is preparing to buy another sizable chunk of satellite capacity as demand soars beyond pre-pandemic levels.

Speedcast added 13 gigabits per second (Gbps) of capacity from satellite operators to its international network in late May, giving it a record 30 Gbps of bandwidth to primarily serve cruise and energy markets. 

“We’re looking at similar network growth over the coming months,” Speedcast CEO Joe Spytek told SpaceNews.

“We expect to add another 12 Gbps of bandwidth when [cruise] ships return to the Caribbean beginning in September, in anticipation of the industry returning to full service at 100% occupancy this winter.”

He expects cruise ships will return to full service with more demand for high-bandwidth connectivity than before, and said Speedcast also sees increased activity from the energy sector with new projects and a need for longer-term contracts. 

It took only about a month to complete Speedcast’s latest network expansion.

“Adding 13 Gbps to the network in that short timeframe is a huge undertaking, but we’ve got the intelligent automation in place across our network to be able to layer in high volumes of capacity in a short timeframe,” Spytek said.

However, demand for satcoms in Speedcast’s markets is outstripping supply amid a lack of new geostationary satellites, according Spytek.

Low Earth orbit (LEO) broadband megaconstellations aim to deliver a significant amount of new capacity for these connectivity markets. They also promise to bring fiber-like data speeds with low latency to every part of the world.

But OneWeb and others planning on selling their capacity on a wholesale business to satcom providers like Speedcast have suffered delays in deploying their networks.

Speedcast has signed up as one of the distribution partners for OneWeb’s LEO network, which is currently only available for fixed services at 50 degrees and north while it waits to resume satellite deployments this year.

“With a tighter capacity market, OneWeb expansion provides another option in our toolkit for customers, especially as some operations and expeditions move farther north and south toward the poles, where GEO solutions are less viable,” Spytek said.

Speedcast installed the first OneWeb customer demonstration antenna system at the end of May in Aberdeen, Scotland.

Spytek said Speedcast is also launching demonstration centers in other locations to show customers how its technology-agnostic network can weave in other emerging high-bandwidth solutions.

“Like OneWeb, there are a growing number of communication paths, satellite orbits and unique constellations coming to market,” he said.

Although SpaceX’s Starlink broadband megaconstellation has built a business around selling to customers directly, Speedcast and select customers “are actively trialing Starlink services,” and developing capabilities to accommodate them within Speedcast’s network.

Spytek said “assessments to-date position Starlink as a companion service combined with our higher-end, guaranteed throughput services, targeted toward crew use” and other complementary services.

“That said, there is potential where we have overlapping geographies — in which Starlink offers coverage and we have the right profile of customers.”

Spytek said Speedcast has a mix of fixed site and mobility customers slated for OneWeb trials this year.

He said OneWeb’s ability to serve mobility markets is currently slated for the end of 2022, with full global coverage expected in mid-2023.

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