Amazon invests US$ 10bn in Project Kuiper to connect unserved and underserved communities


Amazon is targeting 2024 for the first launch of its satellites for Project Kuiper, which aims to increase high-speed, low-latency, affordable broadband access, especially in places that currently lack reliable connectivity. Targeted users include households, schools, hospitals, businesses, government agencies, disaster relief operations, and mobile operators.

Basically, satellite-based internet is wireless internet beamed down from satellites that orbit our planet. The Kuiper System is made up of three key elements: advanced LEO satellites; small, affordable customer terminals; and a ground-based communications network. The project is currently on track to have more than half of its planned low-Earth orbit (LEO) constellation up by mid-2026. Under three recently concluded agreements 38 satellite launches will take place using ULA’s Vulcan Centaur rocket, 18 launches on Arianespace’s Ariane 6, and 12 launches on Blue Origin’s New Glenn, with options for 15 additional launches. Under an agreement with Beyond Gravity (Switzerland) low satellite dispensers will be developed to deploy the Project Kuiper constellation satellites at the correct altitudes for insertion into orbit. The capacity of these dispensers can be scaled up and down to accommodate different types of satellites. Amazon has pointed out that investments in Project Kuiper will support thousands of suppliers and highly skilled jobs across 49 U.S. states and 13 European countries.

SpaceX (Starlink), Viasat, HughesNet, Telesat and others are also developing systems in the LEO broadband market. The number of potential users is vast: according to Statista some 40% the world’s population still lacks efficient internet access. However, it’s important to point out that LEO isn’t a replacement for fibre connectivity. It’s a way of cost-effectively bringing broadband to certain areas. Fibre plays a fundamental role in realising satellite internet access. The LEO provider’s ground station needs to be connected to the nearest internet exchange over a fibre backbone. In this way, satellite internet providers can connect with networks and give end-users high speeds, low latency internet access.

Furthermore, satellite isn’t a direct replacement for fibre, which offers higher speed and lower latency. LEOs offer limited bandwidth, a limited number of streams, and the satellites are very costly to manufacture. Satellite-based internet is also extremely sensitive to weather, solar conditions such as electromagnetic interference. Fibre throughput is up to hundreds of Tb/s per strand at 200 million m/s and round-trip latency is considerably lower as the signal does not have to travel to space and back. The fact that LEO satellites are located relatively close to the Earth compared to ‘traditional’ Global Stationary Orbit (GSO or GEO) satellites significantly reduces latency, but also severely limits each satellite’s coverage area.