Amazon seeks permission to launch 3.2K broadband satellites as Kuiper initiative moves ahead

Amazon is moving forward with its satellite-based broadband initiative Project Kuiper, seeking approval last week from the Federal Communications Commission to launch thousands of satellites for connectivity across the globe.

FCC filings show Amazon’s Kuiper System plans to deliver internet service to “tens of millions” of consumers both in the United States and around the world via the satellite constellation, which would operate in the Ka-band.

Amazon first detailed plans of the project in April, and the latest FCC filings show it would consist of 3,236 satellites in 98 orbital planes, at altitudes between 366 and 391 miles.  

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Amazon said the non-geostationary satellite orbit (NGSO) fixed-satellite service (FSS) would help close the digital divide, providing fixed connectivity to homes, schools, businesses, hospitals, government agencies and first responders, among others.

“The Kuiper System will also enable mobile network operators to expand wireless services to unserved and underserved mobile customers and provide high-throughput mobile broadband connectivity services for aircraft, maritime vessels, and land vehicles,” according to Kuiper System’s application (PDF) obtained by GeekWire.

To deliver high-speed internet service while also enhancing spectrum efficiency and sharing with other authorized systems, Amazon said the Kuiper System will combine “advanced satellite and earth station technologies with an innovative constellation design and software defined network control functions.”

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The e-commerce giant also told the commission it has the infrastructure, financial resources and expert team needed to make the large-scale project a reality. The company pointed to its in-house technology development teams that have experience with unmanned aircraft systems (Amazon Prime Air), its work on automation and robotics with Amazon Robotics and distributed data centers, networks and services with Amazon Web Services.

Plans for service include the continental U.S., Hawaii, and U.S. territories, though Amazon is seeking a waiver from the requirement to provide service in Alaska.

The application indicates that service rollout will start as soon as the first 578 satellites are launched, though an exact deployment date is not mentioned.

Amazon acknowledged it needs to avoid interference with other companies’ satellites. According to the application, the Kuiper System is designed to enable spectrum sharing that is in line with other proposed and operational NGSO FSS systems and use coordination or dynamic spectrum sub-channelization to avoid interference events where necessary.  

Amazon said it will also provide backhaul services to terrestrial carriers, enabling those operators to reach more customers in rural areas and extend their next-generation wireless networks.

SpaceX is another company with ambitious satellite-based internet plans, though its planned network is further along and significantly larger than Project Kuiper. SpaceX previously snagged FCC approval to launch nearly 12,000 broadband satellites, 60 of which launched in late May.

Startup OneWeb launched six satellites in February.