Satellite Internet: Amazon gets green light from US authorities for SpaceX's rival Kuiper project and is going to invest $10 billion in satellite internet...
In April 2019, Amazon announced that it was working on a new project called Kuiper to provide broadband internet access worldwide. According to its statements:
"the Kuiper project is a new initiative to launch a constellation of low earth orbit satellites that will bring low-latency broadband connectivity to the world's unserved and underserved communities".
Through this project, Amazon plans to establish itself as a leading player among satellite broadband Internet service providers. To do so, the company intends to place a constellation of 3236 satellites in Earth orbit to enable millions of people to access broadband Internet worldwide. This constellation will be composed of three layers of satellites: 784 satellites in a 590 km orbit, 1 156 satellites in a 630 km orbit and 1 296 satellites in a 610 km orbit.
In July of the same year, Amazon applied to the US authorities for permission to launch its 3236 Internet satellites as part of its Kuiper project. It took a year for Amazon to receive approval from the US authorities; the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the US telecoms regulator, gave its approval on 30 June 2020.
Amazon would invest more than $10 billion in the project.
"We've heard so many stories lately about people who are unable to do their jobs or complete their education because they don't have a reliable Internet connection at home," said Dave Limp, senior vice president at Amazon.
"There are still too many places where broadband access is unreliable or doesn't exist at all. Kuiper will change that. Our $10 billion investment will create jobs and infrastructure in the United States, which will help us close that gap. We appreciate the unanimous and bipartisan support of the FCC on this issue, and I want to thank Chairman Pai and the rest of the Commission for taking this important first step with us. So we're off to a great start. »
"We are making an incredible amount of inventions to provide fast, reliable broadband at a price that makes sense for customers," said Rajeev Badyal, Vice President of Technology at Project Kuiper.
"LEO-based broadband systems such as Project Kuiper present many challenges, and we have assembled a world-class team of engineers and scientists who are committed to realizing our vision of Project Kuiper and making space a safe and sustainable environment for all. Combine this with Amazon's deep expertise in networking and infrastructure and its ability to fund such an undertaking, and I am optimistic about the impact we can have for these unserved and underserved communities. »
The planned satellites would operate at altitudes of 590 km, 610 km and 630 km, allowing much lower latencies than traditional satellite services that use geosynchronous orbits of more than 35,000 km. With the launch of this new Internet via satellite service, Amazon is thus expected to enter a market that already includes companies such as SpaceX and its Starlink service, which will soon enter the test phase on the North American continent. By way of comparison, SpaceX has already put into orbit around 600 of the 12 000 satellites that are to form its Starlink constellation, after receiving authorisation from the US authorities in 2018. Elon Musk's company had already indicated that the constellation should cost him around 10 billion dollars.
The satellite network proposed by Amazon will take advantage of the infrastructure already in place to support Amazon Web Services (AWS), including data centres, fibre-optic links and computing resources. "In addition to providing ground station service directly to customers, the Kuiper project will also provide backhaul solutions for mobile operators by extending LTE and 5G service to new regions," Amazon added, but did not provide further details on the project schedule.
FCC rules give Amazon six years to launch and operate 50% of the licensed satellites, with a deadline of July 30, 2026. Amazon is expected to launch the remaining licensed satellites by July 30, 2029. Amazon plans to offer broadband to customers "once the first 578 satellites are launched," the FCC said. Amazon did not say when service will be available to customers.
According to the document provided by the FCC to approve the project, the authority said Amazon's plan "would provide continuous coverage to customers located at approximately 56°N and 56°S latitude, serving the United States, Hawaii, U.S. territories, and other contiguous areas of the world. The plan calls for the use of frequencies from 17.7 to 18.6 GHz and 18.8 to 20.2 GHz for space-to-Earth communications and 27.5 to 30.0 GHz for Earth-to-space transmissions. The FCC stated that it had granted the licence because it would"advance the public interest by authorizing a system designed to increase the availability of broadband service to consumers, government and business.
The document includes requirements to minimize orbital debris and collision risks, prevention of harmful interference, spectrum sharing and power limits. Amazon's design of the Kuiper satellites is not complete, so the company will require further FCC approval after submitting a final plan for orbital debris mitigation, risk of collision and "risk of re-entry accident". The FCC document also requires Amazon to obtain a "favorable" rating from the International Telecommunication Union to demonstrate compliance with power limits.
In addition to SpaceX, Amazon's Kuiper project would potentially face competition from OneWeb's low-Earth satellites, which filed for bankruptcy at the end of March. On 3 July, OneWeb agreed to sell the company to a consortium including the UK government and Bharti Global Limited. The UK government, which invested $500 million in the deal, said: "The agreement will enable the company to complete the construction of a global satellite constellation that will provide enhanced broadband and other services to countries around the world. "OneWeb also has an investment from Hughes, which operates geosynchronous satellites.