Amazon prepares satellite-based broadband internet

Justin Herrick
JH
Justin Herrick
Apr 5, 2019

“Hey Alexa, what are all those satellites for?”

In the future, you could be setting up and managing a Wi-Fi network directly from Amazon.

The Seattle-based company wants to ensure that, no matter where you’re located, you can be connected with broadband internet and recently started to move toward that mission.

Amazon hasn’t made a formal announcement yet, but it did confirm a report that exposed its plan to launch more than 3,000 satellites for high-speed, low-latency broadband connectivity.

The plan, known as Project Kuiper, aims to serve millions of people around the world who are unable to access broadband internet. In federal filings spotted by GeekWire, Amazon mentioned a network that includes 3,236 satellites. From that network, the satellites would be spread across different altitudes in low Earth orbit. With its large network of satellites, Amazon expects to be able to cover 95% of the world’s population.

Of course, it’ll take time and billions of dollars for Project Kuiper to achieve that level of coverage. However, the long-term goal stands to be extremely valuable as only 51.2% of the world’s population currently has access to the internet, according to Statista.

Why should we care about more satellites?

The benefits for users should include faster speeds, lower latency and less expensive plans.

It also removes geographical limitations. Satellites are already used for broadband internet, but most customers are stuck with a subpar experience compared to cable and fiber.

Amazon wants Project Kuiper to be accessible and consistent worldwide, which might lead to a fair-priced service. In the last year, several companies made advancements with similar aspirations. SpaceX introduced two prototype satellites in 2018 while seeking to raise additional funds, and OneWeb started launching satellites into orbit a few months ago.

Other companies are in the race, too — Boeing, Facebook, LeoSat and Telesat. While none of them are able to offer a consumer-ready service at the moment, these companies want to be live in the early 2020s.

Meanwhile, Alphabet-owned Loon says it’ll launch commercial-grade high-altitude balloons in Kenya later this year.

How much do new satellites cost?

The cost of satellites for broadband connectivity varies, but SoftBank-backed OneWeb figured out how to reduce the cost down to $1 million per unit.

Traditional satellites for communications are estimated to cost as much as $150 million per unit; therefore, any success for Amazon and its competitors will likely depend on the extent to which resources are allocated toward developing, launching and managing an entire network of satellites.  It could be worth the large investment due to potential revenue.

There isn’t any timeline attached to Project Kuiper, unfortunately. Named after the late astronomer Gerard Kuiper, Amazon’s ambitious plan to unleash next-generation broadband connectivity on a global scale appears to be in a very early stage.

Expect to hear much more about Amazon’s Project Kuiper into the next decade. If you’re in the market for satellite internet service, be sure to check out these providers.

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