While most people visiting Amazon’s Headquarters in Seattle might be razer sharp focussed on the huge global shopping network, the AWS infrastructure which powers large parts of the internet or even just the stunning “Spheres” that have been built there in the heart of Seattle – I couldn’t stop talking about and asking about their plans for Satellite Internet – what’s known as Project Kuiper.
And look, there’s no mucking around here, Amazon is years behind the eight ball when it comes to public perception of Satellite Internet – Elon Musk has cornered that conversation with the SpaceX driven Starlink internet service. But recent aggressive pricing from Starlink might now be understandable given the competition we’re going to see in this space (pardon the pun) in the next few years.
During my two days with Amazon, I was fortunate enough to hear from Naveen Kachroo, Head of Product and BD, Project Kuiper who’s vision for the product and plans seem very set in stone – for now, it’s really about executing on that plan with some very important timeframes and deadlines to meet.
Those deadlines include a requirement to have 90% of their satellite constellation deployed by 2029. That may seem a long way away, but they have to launch 3236 Satellites into low-earth-orbit in total, so 90% of them is a big ask!
Even sooner, the FDA licence they hold requires they launch 50% of them by July 2026!
These Satellites, not unlike the Starlink ones, will orbit the earth at a distance of between 590 and 630km away from us, and will provide internet for most of earth.
Why is this happening? Well as Kachroo explains, There are 1 billion homes in areas with no fixed broadband at all, another 300 million using old school DSL (Copper) technology and add to that a huge opportunity for business and enterprise and there’s certainly a business to be made here.
Kuiper’s mission (pronounced kai-per, or k-eye-per) is to “Deliver fast, affordable broadband to unserved and underserved communities around the world”. And they are already five years into this journey.
In fact, they’ve booked in the 77 rocket launches required to deploy those roughly 3,300 satellites to support the service.
One point of difference to Starlink appears to be the ground terminals, with three on show at the event I attended, one huge one measuring 32×18 inches for Enterprise, a medium sized “dish” (they are flat), at 11×11 inches and an ultra-compact 7×7 inch.
The ultra-compact will be capable of speeds up to 100mbps, the standard will give speeds around 400mbps, while the enterprise will be Gigabit speeds.
Not only does this mean more choice, but the competition in this space means we hopefully won’t see prices from a single operator drive upward and make it difficult for users to afford.
The ultra-compact option is an interesting one for those needing basic internet, but also travelling – it’s a complete game-changer.
Interestingly, when I asked Mr Kachroo about the possibility of 5G Advanced using their low-earth-orbit satellites as might be hoped by our big Telcos after my chat with Telstra and Ericsson at Mobile World Congress, I was told flat out that this was a Wideband offering, not narrowband, in short, this won’t work unless you’ve got an Amazon “dish” or terminal to receive it.
It’s a fascinating area of technology development, and it opens up our country like nothing before it – so bring on the SpaceX v Amazon wars – I’m here for it.
Trevor Long travelled to Seattle as a guest of Amazon Australia