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Elon Musk’s Starlink is eyeing a tie-up with Vodafone to expand its satellite broadband service in the UK.
The US satellite company, which uses low orbit small sats to provide internet connectivity in rural locations, is understood to be hunting for spectrum deals in an effort to expand the capacity of its service.
Starlink, part of Mr Musk’s SpaceX, launched a UK trial in January this year, which has expanded to a few thousand people. They use a satellite dish to receive internet from hundreds of satellites orbiting at around 340 miles high.
Industry insiders said Starlink has been hunting for ground station infrastructure, which provides a link to the backbone of the UK’s fibre network, and high frequency spectrum, which is held in the UK by four providers including Vodafone.
In an Ofcom filing, Vodafone said it was open to talks with satellite operators. Its potential suitors are understood to include Mr Musk’s company. Talks with satellite companies are said to be at an advanced stage.
In the filing, Vodafone said: “Vodafone is a licensee of spectrum in the 28 gigahertz band, using this spectrum extensively for terrestrial fixed links. We understand this bank is of value for gateway links to satellites.
“We are open to approaches from satellite providers who may wish to lease the spectrum.”
An agreement with a telecoms operator could allow Mr Musk to expand more rapidly. His satellite broadband buyers have so far enjoyed fast speeds due to its relatively small customer base, but as numbers ramp up its network could become more congested. Deals with telcos allow satellite operators to connect to fibre internet networks.
He faces competition in the UK for broadband customers from OneWeb. The taxpayer-backed satellite company is currently developing a trial with BT which could see its satellite broadband offered to internet users in rural areas.
Starlink is also thought to be working on ground infrastructure with Arqiva, and at a site on the Isle of Man.
A Vodafone spokesperson said: “Regarding satellite spectrum, we can confirm we are in talks with multiple operators. We're close to striking a deal.”
Starlink did not respond to a request for comment.