Starlink vs Inmarsat: 6 Must-Know Facts
- Satellite internet service is notorious for its slowness, lag time, low latency, and unreliability.
- Inmarsat in-flight phone calls or email on an airliner can cost you $1 to $3 per minute.
- Viasat bought Inmarsat for $7.3 billion.
- Starlink dish terminals have built-in heaters which autonomously activate in cold weather.
- Less than 0.5% of the world, or 43 million people, use satellite internet services.
- By 2029, over 110 million people globally are expected to depend on satellite internet services.
Innovation is the art of obliterating the current status quo, introducing a new one, and convincing consumers who loathe change that they must instantly accept it. Consumers don’t buy camera film, they snap pics with smart devices. Vacuum tube televisions haven’t been popular since the advent of flat screens.
The next technological innovation frontier will probably be satellite internet and telecommunications. Who will win in the battle between Starlink vs Inmarsat as the world becomes more digitally connected via satellites?
About 2.8 billion have never used the internet. But less than 43 million people globally are dependent on satellite internet and telecommunications. Will satellite-enabled technology help usher the entire world into the digital age?
Let’s compare Starlink vs Inmarsat and see which offers the better service.
Starlink vs Inmarsat: Side-by-Side Comparison
|Founders||Elon Musk, Kimbal Musk, Gwynne Shotwell||International Maritime Organization, U.N.|
|Headquarters||Redmond, Washington||London, England|
|Service||Commercial satellite internet||Commercial Satellite internet and telecommunications|
|Cost||$110 per month with a $599 hardware fee||Varies|
|Number of satellites||3,000+||14|
|Internet speed||50 to 150 Mbps||464 Kbps to 1.7 Mbps|
Starlink vs Inmarsat: What’s the Difference?
The main difference between Starlink and Inmarsat is that Starlink markets itself as a satellite internet service company in a similar fashion to Hughesnet, Telesat, and Iridium. Meanwhile, Inmarsat was conceptualized as a global contractor offering satellite-based technologies to various industries.
These include the aviation industry, military, government and civilian agencies, mining, maritime and seafaring industries, and individuals. Starlink offers its services as a contractor for militaries and government agencies as well.
But Starlink generally serves the public while Inmarsat is more of a contractor for corporations, businesses, and governments. Let’s explore some of the differences between the two companies.
Starlink is a younger company but has a much higher brand awareness than Inmarsat, which has been in business for over four decades. But, at the same time, Inmarsat has decades of experience as a corporate and government contractor.
Starlink is a subsidiary of Elon Musk’s SpaceX rocket, engineering, and space tourism company. Starlink was launched and conceptualized in 2015 but did not start its satellite launching operations until 2019.
Unlike Inmarsat, which launches its satellites in high-Earth orbit, Starlink launches its satellites in low-Earth orbit. The company has launched over 3,000 satellites in low-Earth orbit since 2019. For Starlink’s purposes, a low-Earth orbit is about 300 to 350 miles above Earth.
The proximity of the low-Earth orbit satellites to a consumer’s satellite dish makes transmitting and receiving signals easier relative to high-Earth orbit satellites.
Starlink has gained permission from the Federal Communications Commission to launch 10,000 low-Earth orbit satellites in the short term and another 32,0000. The company’s business plans involve launching a low-Earth orbit constellation of satellites of 42,000 satellites in the decades to come. A low-Earth orbit constellation will better ensure uninterrupted and reliable satellite internet signals to Starlink’s customers.
Inmarsat is a privately owned company now, but it was originally started as a maritime humanitarian organization in 1979. After the world’s first telecommunications satellite was launched in 1962, the International Maritime Organization began researching how telecommunication satellites could help mariners.
By 1975, the IMO had conceptualized the International Maritime Satellite Organization, which was abbreviated to Inmarsat, as an international organization that could use satellite communications technology to help the maritime community at sea from getting lost and being found in times of distress.
Inmarsat was officially launched in 1979. And by 1980, the International Civil Aviation Organization was included in Inmarsat’s charter along with the maritime community to upgrade communications and safety in aviation.
In the decades since, Inmarsat has become privatized. However, it updated its satellite communications and internet technology to aid global transportation systems, the maritime community, militaries, corporations, governments, and to a smaller extent, the consumer market.
Inmarsat has been acquired or merged with other companies numerous times. In November 2021, Inmarsat was wholly acquired by Viasat, a Carlsbad, California-based internet and telecommunications company.
The biggest difference between Starlink and Inmarsat can be discerned in the orbits of their proprietary satellites. Starlink’s satellites are designed to orbit 350 miles above Earth while transmitting and receiving data from their customer’s Earth-bound dishes.
The proximity of the low-Earth orbit satellite constellation with Starlink dishes enables reliable internet coverage. However, Starlink needs to launch a constellation of at least 10,000 satellites. The company plans to launch over 42,000 in the decades to come.
Inmarsat is more of a traditional satellite communications company, like Hughesnet or Iridium, when it comes to the orbits of their satellites. Inmarsat owns 14 satellites that are strategically placed around the planet in high-Earth orbits of at least 22,200 miles above Earth.
Having satellites in high-Earth orbit allows Inmarsat satellites to cover and transmit signals to large swathes of the Earth’s surface. But instead of satellite dishes like Starlink, Inmarsat has receivers and a laptop-sized device called “terminals” that are installed in their client’s aircraft, ships, vehicles, or proprietary technology that interacts with their high-Earth orbit satellites.
Each Inmarsat satellite can emit a beam that can cover one-third of the surface of the Earth. Inmarsat’s coverage area is called “BGAN,” or Broadband Global Area Network.
Starlink markets its satellite internet service to close the gap of inadequate and nonexistent internet services suffered by people living in rural, remote, and developing countries. Over 2.9 billion people, or one out of every three people on the planet, have never used the internet before.
Starlink markets its services to the consumer population that lives in remote and rural areas and wants to improve its satellite internet stability. But the company is also positioning itself to accommodate the growing segment of the developing world which will need more access to the internet in the decades to come.
Starlink’s constellation of low-Earth orbit satellites is not complete. Until then, the countries with the best Starlink service are the United States, Canada, Europe, New Zealand, and Australia. Starlink was contracted by a science station in Antarctica to begin testing Starlink internet systems in the polar region.
In addition, Starlink plans to slowly start entering the African market by the end of 2022. Its satellite internet services are also being contracted by government entities. For example, Starlink made global headlines in September 2022 after announcing that it would stop giving the Ukrainian government free subscriptions to Starlink in its war with Russia. (Starlink has taken back the comments.)
Inmarsat’s Quiet Presence
Inmarsat sells satellite phones, GPS, and remote satellite laptop terminals in specialty markets for the consumer industry, especially those who live or work in remote areas. However, most consumers are unaware of the Inmarsat brand, even though they may have used it many times in their lives if they have ever flown on a commercial airliner or taken a cruise.
Inmarsat markets and sells its services to militaries, navies, commercial aviation and cruise line industries, mining corporations, aerospace industries, the maritime community, and more. And the consumer public in turn uses Inmarsat products without realizing it.
If you have ever used a satellite phone, internet, interactive real-time travel maps, or entertainment systems on a commercial airliner, then you may have used an Inmarsat satellite technology product without ever realizing it.
If you have ever been on a cruise liner or private yacht, the vessel may have been equipped with a satellite phone, satellite tracker, and internet terminal supplied by Inmarsat.
To be fair, Inmarsat gained worldwide brand recognition in 2014 in the aftermath of the disappearance of MH 370. Even though the plane’s tracking systems were turned off, MH370’s digital automated maintenance systems were autonomously sending one-way maintenance signals to Inmarsat satellites.
Unfortunately, Inmarsat couldn’t track the missing plane. However, the company developed new ad-hoc tracking techniques that helped the world get a very general idea of where MH370 disappeared, which may have been in the southern Indian Ocean.
Even though Inmarsat products are mostly used indirectly, especially in the travel industry, you can buy them through online stores like the Satellite Phone Store or Inmarsat’s official site.
If you have a yacht, you can buy a satellite phone, GPS, or satellite internet through Inmarsat. While the service is probably more dependable than Starlink, which is still expanding its services, Inmarsat will be more expensive.
At the moment, Starlink’s monthly services are $110 with a one-time $599 maintenance. Customers get a satellite dish that they must assemble themselves. Once activated, the satellite will automatically align with Starlink’s low-Earth-orbit satellites.
Starlink raised its monthly price to $110 in early 2022. And in May 2022, Starlink added a $25 portability fee. If you move your Starlink dish to a new location, your $110 monthly bill will increase to $135 thereafter. What’s more, Starlink’s internet speed is 50 to 150 Mbps under optimal conditions.
You can buy an Inmarsat internet terminal, which is a laptop or small suitcase-sized device that will grant you internet access from an Inmarsat satellite. However, on the main page of the Satellite Phone Store for internet terminals, the prices for these devices are not shown. You must click on a prompt that says, “Explore Your Options.”
The Inmarsat BGAN MCD-4800 Portable Satellite Internet Unit, one of many satellite internet terminals you can find at online vendors like the Satellite Phone Store, will cost you $13,000. The portable unit creates a WiFi hotspot with a radius of 300 feet. The internet speed is 464 Kbps (1 Mbps is 1,000 times faster than 1 Kbps) and has a 5-hour battery.
Starlink vs Inmarsat: Which One Is Better? Which One Should You Use?
So, in the battle between Starlink vs. Inmarsat, which is better? We think that, at the moment, Inmarsat’s technology is more dependable. But that may change once Starlink launches its full low-Earth orbit constellation of satellites.
We recommend that you use Starlink. That’s because Starlink is relatively more affordable and user-friendly. Starlink’s satellite internet speed is also much faster than Inmarsat’s. And that is due to the fact that Starlink’s low-Earth orbit satellite orbits hundreds of miles above Earth. Inmarsat’s satellites orbit over 22,300 miles above Earth, so their signals take longer to reach it.
Starlink’s service is still expanding, but there is a waitlist for some people who want the service. Inmarsat satellite internet terminals can be taken anywhere, but it will be an expensive endeavor.
Therefore, we recommend using Starlink if you live in their coverage areas. Their service is affordable and faster. By contrast, we recommend you use Inmarsat if you are into adventure traveling in remote areas, flying private planes, or sailing in remote maritime areas on private vessels.
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