Published: Wednesday, 27 October 2021 00:34
Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon, which describes its future constellation as a system that will provide "low-latency, high-speed broadband connectivity to unserved and underserved communities around the world." Credit: SpaceNews/Caleb Henry
TAMPA, Fla. — Verizon Communications is working with Amazon to develop solutions for its proposed Project Kuiper megaconstellation, with the aim of using the satellites to extend connectivity services to more rural and remote communities across the United States.
The U.S. telecom giant said Oct. 26 it has started developing commercial models and technical specifications for its terrestrial network to enable it to use the roughly 3,200 broadband satellites envisaged by Project Kuiper, which has yet to launch any to low Earth orbit (LEO).
Amazon has committed an initial $10 billion to develop Project Kuiper and must deploy half the network by July 2026, and the rest by July 2029, under its license conditions.
While its partnership with Verizon will focus on backhaul services to extend the telco’s 4G/LTE and 5G data networks to more areas, it will also explore connectivity solutions for domestic and global industries, including agriculture, energy, manufacturing and transportation.
Verizon’s network reaches about 98% of the United States population and 72% of its landmass, according to New Street Research analyst Philip Burnett, meaning 6-7 million people are not in reach of the telco’s LTE services.
AT&T, Verizon’s archrival, announced a similar partnership in September with LEO broadband startup OneWeb, which unlike Project Kuiper is not seeking a share of the consumer market and is more focused on enterprise customers.
OneWeb has deployed more than half its planned 648-strong constellation, reaching 358 satellites in LEO following its latest launch Oct. 14. It expects to launch commercial services in the upper reaches of the Northern Hemisphere later this year.
Saudi Arabia’s NEOM Tech & Digital Holding Company said Oct. 26 that it will invest $200 million in a joint venture with OneWeb to resell its satellite capacity.
NEOM secured OneWeb capacity for $170 million in a seven-year deal, and is investing $30m in the joint venture that will distribute it across Saudi Arabia, the wider Middle East and neighboring East African countries.
Amazon has previously teamed up with Verizon on other joint projects, including integrating its AWS cloud services into the telco’s 5G network.
The partnership with Project Kuiper also helps differentiate the planned satellite network from SpaceX’s Starlink broadband constellation, which has more than 1,600 satellites in LEO and is currently in beta testing with consumers.
Whereas Starlink has been seeking to compete directly with telcos for underserved consumer markets, Amazon has said it wants to partner with established players to connect rural and other underserved areas.
“The partnership will bring stiff competition to SpaceX and others seeking to use satellite technology to bring enhanced broadband to rural areas,” wrote Burnett in a note to investors.
“Verizon’s 5G wireless network will deliver better service than satellite broadband in areas where it is available (though technological development continues to narrow the difference in consumer experience).”
Burnett added that Verizon could potentially bring “its credibility and connections” at the Federal Communications Commission to support Project Kuiper, which is trying to block SpaceX’s amended plans for a second-generation Starlink constellation.
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