Amazon Unveils Satellite Dishes for its Starlink Internet Rival

Image: Amazon

Amazon today unveiled outdoor antennae — or “customer terminals,” as the company calls them — for its upcoming satellite broadband service, Project Kuiper.

“Project Kuiper is Amazon’s low Earth orbit (LEO) satellite network. Its mission is to bridge the digital divide by providing fast, affordable broadband to communities unserved or underserved by traditional communications technologies,” the company explained.

Amazon first announced Project Kuiper back in 2019. The service is meant to rival SpaceX’s Starlink, which currently provides high-speed internet in 50 countries using a growing satellite constellation and already has more than one million users.

According to Amazon, Project Kuiper users will need to install customer terminals to communicate with the company’s satellites in space and facilitate internet connectivity. The company showed off three engineering prototypes of these terminals at a recent satellite industry conference in Washington, D.C.

The three designs include:

  • An affordable high-performance design for residential and small business customers, which measures 11 inches x 11 inches (27.94 cm x 27.94 cm) and weighs less than 5 lb (2.27 kg). Amazon expects to produce this design for less than $400 USD per unit and claims it is capable of delivering speeds up to 400 megabits per second (Mbps).
  • An ultra-compact, 7 inches x 7 inches (17.78 cm x 17.78 cm) design that weighs just 1 lb (0.45 kg) and manages internet speeds of up to 100 Mbps. While Amazon didn’t say how much this design would cost to produce, the company said it is meant for “customers who need an even lower-cost model” and will improve the service’s accessibility and affordability.
  • A high-bandwidth design for enterprise, government, and telecommunications customers. This design measures 19 inches x 30 inches (48.26 cm x 76.2 cm) and can deliver up to 1 gigabit per second (Gbps) of connectivity to fulfill the most demanding needs.

Image: Amazon

Amazon said that Project Kuiper plans to serve tens of millions of customers. As such, the company originally set out with the (now-completed) objective of designing a customer terminal that can be produced for under $500.

“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,” said Rajeev Badyal, Amazon’s Vice President of Technology for Project Kuiper.

“From day one, 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.”

The antenna designs Amazon showed off are based on a new antenna architecture invented by engineers working on Project Kuiper that is smaller and lighter than existing designs.

What’s more, all Project Kuiper terminals will be powered by custom, Amazon-designed baseband chips. These chips, codenamed “Prometheus,” combines the processing power of a 5G modem chip found in modern smartphones with the functionality of a cellular base station and a microwave backhaul antenna.

Amazon didn’t share customer pricing for its satellite terminals, and they haven’t even gone into production. The company is also yet to launch any of the satellites that will support the Project Kuiper service.

Amazon said that Project Kuiper will launch its first two prototype satellites on the first flight of the United Launch Alliance (ULA)’s Vulcan Centaur rocket. Furthermore, the company will start mass-producing Project Kuiper satellites by the end of this year at a plant in Kirkland, Washington, that’s currently under development.

Project Kuiper expects to launch its first production satellites in the first half of 2024, with plans to roll out commercial service to its earliest customers starting later that year.

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