Vodafone backs Amazon’s nascent LEO satellite business Project Kuiper


Amazon’s Project Kuiper satellites will help extend the reach of Vodafone’s 4G and 5G networks to some of the hardest-to-reach areas in Europe and Africa

This week, Vodafone has announced plans to work with Amazon’s burgeoning low Earth orbit (LEO) satellite constellation, Project Kuiper.

Amazon’s communications satellites will allow Vodafone to offer 4G and 5G services to consumers in areas currently unserved or underserved by terrestrial networks. This includes areas where geographic features make traditional infrastructure deployment too challenging or too expensive, such as islands, mountains, and other remote areas.

Alongside connecting these hard-to-reach consumers, the constellation will also allow for enterprise-specific connectivity offerings, such as providing an emergency backup connection for mission-critical operations.

“Vodafone’s work with Project Kuiper will provide mobile connectivity to many of the estimated 40% of the global population without internet access, supporting remote communities, their schools and businesses, the emergency services, and disaster relief. These connections will be complemented further through our own work on direct-to-smartphone satellite services,” said Vodafone CEO Margherita Della Valle (pictured, left).

“Teaming with a leading international service provider like Vodafone allows us to make a bigger impact faster in closing the digital divide in Europe and Africa. Together we’ll explore how we can help our customers get the most value from expanded connectivity, particularly in areas like residential broadband, agriculture, education, healthcare, transportation, and financial services,” added Dave Limp, Amazon’s senior vice president for devices and services (pictured, right).

Amazon has had Project Kuiper in the works for many years, but significant progress has only started to be made in the last few years. Amazon finally received approval from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to launch 3,000 LEO satellites earlier this year and, since then, has laid out plans to launch two prototype satellites in the coming months.

Full scale satellites deployments will begin in earnest in 2024, with the first phase seeing 578 satellites launched into orbit.

Ultimately, the company aims to launch 3,236 satellites. As per its licence with the FCC, 50% of these must be launched by July 30 2026, with the full constellation deployed no later than July 30 2029.

Project Kuiper is not the only major telecommunications satellite operation drawing the attention of the telcos. SpaceX’s Starlink constellation, for example, already has over 4,500 LEO satellites in orbit, offering services to customers in numerous global markets, notably playing a significant role in Ukraine since the onset of the war last year.

Last month, Telefonica said they had partnered with Starlink to expand their coverage in rural areas, particularly in the hard-to-reach areas of South America.

UK government-backed OneWeb, meanwhile, has also achieved global coverage with its 648 satellites, snagging connectivity provisioning deals with the likes of BT and AT&T.

Thus, Project Kuiper will be playing catch-up in the telecoms space race – at least for the next couple of years.

Finally, it is worth noting that Vodafone themselves are already involved with another space-based communications project with AST SpaceMobile, whom they partnered with last year.

AST’s SpaceMobile technology is notable for allowing unmodified smartphones to connected directly to the satellite constellation, which Vodafone says will allow them to effectively eliminate coverage gaps in their operating markets.

How exactly the new partnership with Project Kuiper will interact or overlap with the existing deal with AST SpaceMobile is unclear, but Della Valle assured the media that the projects would be complementary.

The telecoms satellite space race is heating up in 2023. Join the operators in discussion at this year’s Total Telecom Congress live in Amsterdam

Also in the news:
Altafiber raises $600m in funding for fibre expansion
CityFibre’s network rollout passes 3 million UK premises
Vodafone to begin UK’s largest Open RAN rollout 

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