Amazon gains FCC approval for Kuiper internet satellite constellation and commits $10 billion to the project

August 2020

Amazon has received approval from the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to launch and operate a planned constellation of 3,236 internet satellites. That’s the backbone of Amazon’s Project Kuiper, an initiative to create a satellite-based broadband internet service designed to provide high-speed, low-latency connections to U.S.-based households that currently don’t have great access to a high-speed connection.

Alongside the key regulatory approval, Amazon also announced that it would be committing over $10 billion in Kuiper, money that it says will generate U.S. jobs and involve not only building and testing satellites for the constellation, but also building out key ground network infrastructure that’s required in order to actually make the connectivity available to consumers.

Amazon’s Kuiper includes plans to provide backhaul service to carriers in addition to direct consumer service. Essentially, that means it’ll offer a way for carriers to offer high-speed LTE and 5G wireless connections to their customers in more areas where they don’t currently have the ground station infrastructure to do so. Amazon says this will be on offer “in the United States and around the world,” so it sounds like the plan is to first address the U.S. market and then expand the Kuiper network globally from there.

Amazon lags behind SpaceX in terms of deployment, since the latter company is actually launching satellites for its Starlink network, and looks ready to enter a beta testing program for the service this summer. The Jeff Bezos -led e-commerce giant has opened a brand new R&D facility in Redmond, Washington dedicated entirely to Kuiper development, however, and partner Blue Origin, Bezos’ space launch company, has been securing significant industry partnerships and could be ready to provide launch services for Kuiper satellites relatively soon.

It’s also unlikely that this emerging market for low Earth orbit satellites will have only one winner; provided these networks can actually live up to their promises in terms of latency, speed and quality connection, there will likely be room for multiple providers to compete on a global scale. Amazon’s $10 billion investment is also another good reason to bet it’ll be able to make this a reality — few others out there have as reliable a funding pipeline for the massive upfront infrastructure costs that come with launching a large satellite constellation.

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