Three designs for Project Kuiper satellite antennas. Source: Amazon
Amazon recently unveiled the details of its Project Kuiper initiative, which seeks to bridge the digital divide by providing low-cost satellite broadband services to remote communities without connection. The company says it can deliver fast yet cost-effective internet access via its Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellites through small antennas.
To make satellite services more accessible and cost-effective, the Project Kuiper team set a specific goal: to create a customer terminal that costs no more than $500. They achieved this goal by developing the concept for small, light outdoor antennas in 2020. Since then, Amazon says their designs have become more capable and cost-effective.
“Our goal with Project Kuiper is not just to connect unserved and underserved communities, but also to delight them with the quality, reliability, and value of their service,” says Rajeev Badyal, Amazon’s vice president of technology for Project Kuiper.
Amazon recently previewed three engineering models at an industry conference in Washington, D.C. Its standard model is an affordable yet high-performance design suitable for residential and small business customers. It is less than 11 inches square and 1 inch thick, weighs less than five pounds and delivers speeds up to 400 Mbps. Amazon anticipates producing these terminals for under $400 each.
Its second model is a 7-inch square design. This compact and affordable customer terminal weighs one pound and offers speeds of up to 100 Mbps. With this terminal, Amazon says it can reach a broader range of consumers worldwide, from residential customers looking for more affordable solutions to government and company customers using it for mobile ground technology and Internet of Things (IoT) applications.
Project Kuiper’s third and largest, most powerful model is designed for enterprise, government and telecom applications that require high bandwidth. Measuring 19 inches by 30 inches, this device can deliver up to 1 Gbps speeds.
“Every technology and business decision we’ve made has centered on what will deliver the best experience for different customers around the world, and our range of customer terminals reflects those choices,” says Badyal.
To power Project Kuiper customer terminals, Amazon developed a custom chip named “Prometheus,” which combines 5G modem technology, cellular base station capability and microwave backhaul antennas into one package. Amazon says the chip provides powerful processing power and the ability to handle large amounts of data from thousands of customers simultaneously.
Not only is Prometheus incorporated within Project Kuiper’s customer terminals, but they are also in Amazon’s satellites and ground gateway antennas. With the Prometheus chip, this system can process up to one terabit per second (Tbps) of web traffic on each satellite.
The Amazon team is scaling its infrastructure to build tens of millions of customer units.
Further, Project Kuiper is on track to deploy its first two prototype satellites aboard ULA’s Vulcan Centaur rocket and is gaining valuable data from the mission regarding how its systems perform in space. At the same time, a satellite production facility has been established in Kirkland, Washington, with mass production scheduled to begin by the end of this year.
Meanwhile, Project Kuiper aims to launch its initial production satellites in the first or second quarter 2024 and will offer early adopters the service by the end of that year.
The war in Ukraine has highlighted the critical importance of wireless broadband connectivity. The Starlink LEO satellite service has enabled soldiers to upload battlefield data for intelligence analysis and targeting, enabling the Ukranian army to battle more effectively against the invading Russian forces. In everyday terms, the availability of connectivity in hard-to-reach locations will be a key part of an edge-to-cloud strategy for companies like AWS. Citizens in rural areas will benefit, of course, but the agricultural sector is another area where the availability of services like Kuiper will provide Amazon a counter to offerings from rival services like Starlink.
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