The 21st century space race has arrived and it’s between Elon Musk’s Starlink and Jeff Bezos’ Project Kuiper for the best satellite internet. Although the low-orbit satellite company Starlink is already well on its way to providing high-speed satellite internet across the globe, the company is now facing competition as Amazon joins the market with Project Kuiper.
Amazon initially pledged to invest $10 billion to launch a total of 3,236 satellites into space. However, as of November 2021, they have requested approval from the FCC to launch up to 7,774 satellites into space. The purpose of these satellites is to provide internet service to areas that are unable to receive high-speed internet access through traditional coaxial or fiber optic cable lines.
Although satellite internet already exists through HughesNet and Viasat in the United States, both Project Kuiper and Starlink will be able to change the game for satellite internet by using low-orbit satellites that will allow for faster speeds and lower latency than current satellite providers are able to offer.
Amazon’s Senior Vice President Dave Limp commented,
We have heard so many stories lately about people who are unable to do their job or complete schoolwork because they don’t have reliable internet at home. There are still too many places where broadband access is unreliable or where it doesn’t exist at all. Kuiper will change that…We’re off to the races.
Project Kuiper timeline
The FCC granted approval to Amazon in June 2020 to deploy satellite internet. Amazon has yet to launch any satellites and does not plan to begin launching any satellites until Q4 2022; however, in order to receive approval from the FCC, Amazon had to pledge to deploy half of its satellites by July 2026 and the other half by July 2029.
In April 2021, Kuiper announced that it had purchased nine United Launch Alliance’s (ULA) Atlas V rockets to send its first round of satellites into orbit.
Bezos commented on his decision to partner with ULA,
“ULA is a fantastic partner that’s successfully launched dozens of missions for commercial and government customers, and we’re grateful for their support of Kuiper.”
Project Kuiper has a lot of ground to cover to catch up with Starlink, considering Starlink has already deployed over 2,500 satellites into orbit. Project Kuiper won’t hit those numbers for another five years.
However, Starlink plans to launch significantly more satellites than Kuiper, reaching as many as 12,000 satellites. Despite Starlink planning to deploy two to four times the number of satellites, Project Kuiper plans to be able to provide similar coverage.
One of the main differences is that Starlink’s satellites are slightly lower in elevation than Kuiper (340 miles high vs. 391 miles high) so Kuiper can use fewer satellites to cover more ground. Whether that means latency will be higher for Kuiper is still unclear. For comparison, HughesNet internet has satellites as high as 22,000 miles above the earth, making its latency significantly slower than Starlink.
What speeds can you expect with Kuiper?
Although exact speeds and numbers for Project Kuiper’s satellite internet service are still up in the air, Kuiper reported that during prototype testing, Kuiper was able to reach speeds up to 400 Mbps.
These are incredibly fast speeds considering that HughesNet and Viasat are only able to reach between 25 and 30 Mbps in most areas. Even Starlink only offers between 50 and 150 Mbps at the moment. However, these speeds will reach up to 300 Mbps fairly soon, according to Elon Musk.
Kuiper has not made any announcements about the cost of its service. In order to be competitive with Starlink, however, it will have to be in the $100/mo. range.
Amazon is teaming up with Verizon
On October 26, 2021, Amazon announced that Project Kuiper will be teaming up with Verizon to help expand 4G/LTE and 5G coverage to underserved areas throughout the world. Kuiper’s satellites will allow Verizon to extend its 4G/LTE and 5G networks to rural areas without having to deploy as much of the costly infrastructure these networks normally require.
This means that instead of laying fiber cables in any area Verizon wishes to service, which in many rural areas is too expensive and time-consuming to justify, Verizon can instead utilize Project Kuiper’s satellite internet to expand cellular service. Verizon would be able to accomplish this by connecting Kuiper’s satellites to Verizon cell towers that would then work as “cellular backhaul solutions.”
CEO of Verizon Communications Hans Vestberg tweeted on October 26,
This collaboration provides an opportunity to understand how new technologies like 5G and satellite broadband can come together to serve customers living in unserved and underserved regions of the U.S. and around the globe.
The hope of this partnership, therefore, is to massively increase high-speed broadband access in the most underserved areas of the world.
Amazon CEO Andy Jassy commented in a statement on Verizon’s and Amazon’s partnership as a way to help close the digital divide,
“There are billions of people without reliable broadband access, and no single company will close the digital divide on its own. Verizon is a leader in wireless technology and infrastructure, and we’re proud to be working together to explore bringing fast, reliable broadband to the customers and communities who need it most.”
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Written by:Ari Howard
Associate Writer, Broadband & Wireless Content
Ari is an Associate Writer for the Allconnect team. She primarily writes about broadband news and studies, particularly relating to internet access, digital safety, broadband-related technology and the digital d… Read more
Edited by:Robin Layton
Editor, Broadband Content