Amazon unveils antennas for future Kuiper project network

antena para acesso à rede de internet via satélite da Amazon
Sheila Zabeu -

March 22, 2023

During a satellite industry conference held recently in Washington D.C. in the States, Amazon unveiled for the first time three antenna models from the Kuiper project, its future constellation of Low Warth Orbit (LEO) satellites. Details of the project were announced in November 2021, when the company revealed that it aims to provide fast bandwidth access to unserved and underserved communities around the world.

To use the service, an external antenna (terminal) will need to be installed to communicate with the satellites. According to Amazon, this equipment has traditionally been too large, too complex and too expensive, hindering initiatives that aim to reduce the digital gap.

At the event, Amazon presented three low-cost terminal models with which it plans to serve tens of millions of customers. The ambitious goal is to have a terminal that costs less than $500 to build, using a smaller and lighter architecture than traditional designs. Amazon’s engineering team is still working to make these devices even smaller, more affordable and more feature-rich.

The standard Project Kuiper antenna measures less than 11 inches (27.94 cm) square and 1 inch (2.54 cm) thick. It weighs less than five pounds without the mounting bracket. It can offer speeds of up to 400 megabits per second (Mbps) and Amazon’s intended production cost is less than $400 each.

The smallest antenna design is 7 inches (17.78 cm) square, weighs only half a pound and guarantees speeds of up to 100 Mbps. The model can serve both residential customers looking for lower cost, as well as government and enterprise customers with applications focused on terrestrial mobility and the Internet of Things (IoT).

The third model is aimed at more demanding bandwidth demands. It measures 19 inches by 30 inches and offers speeds of up to 1 gigabit per second (Gbps).

The Project Kuiper terminals use a chip designed by Amazon, codenamed Prometheus, that combines processing power of the 5G cards found in smartphones, capabilities of a cellular base station to handle traffic from thousands of customers at once, and capability of a microwave backhaul antenna to support point-to-point connections. Prometheus is also used in Project Kuiper’s own satellites and ground antennas, and can process up to 1 terabit per second (Tbps) of traffic at the edges of each satellite, according to Amazon.

The company plans to launch the first two prototype satellites in the first half of 2024 on the maiden flight of United Launch Alliance’s (ULA) Vulcan Centaur rocket. The mission will help Kuiper project engineers get real data on the performance of the systems in space and test the end-to-end communication network. In parallel, Amazon is starting operations at scale to offer commercial services. The first customers should have access to the service by the end of 2024.

In time: in early 2022, Elon Musk’s SpaceX introduced LEO satellites that promise higher speeds and higher transfer rates for a one-time fee of $2,500 for the hardware and another $500 a month for the service. Basic Starlink models, on the other hand, charge about $500 for the hardware and $100 per month for the service.

Expanding and controversial market

Low Earth Orbiting (LEO) satellites have the potential to revolutionise the internet, giving millions of people in remote and rural communities who are still unconnected the ability to unlock the world online. International Telecommunication Union data show that 2.9 billion people were still offline in 2021, with 96% living in developing countries.

Given these figures, a race for LEO satellites is to be expected. The European Union (EU), for example, recently announced plans involving a €6 billion LEO satellite system to ensure better broadband access to the region. The project is part of efforts to reduce dependence on foreign companies and protect key communications and surveillance data services from outside interference.

With heavy investment in this dispute, SpaceX offers services in dozens of countries on every continent, with over 2,000 functional satellites orbiting in the sky. There is controversy surrounding the growth of Musk’s Starlink constellation. Members of the scientific community have raised concerns about the satellites’ growing impact on the visibility of the night sky. In addition, SpaceX competitors have initiated regulatory disputes in an attempt to slow down Starlink’s momentum.

Just by way of comparison, OneWeb, one of SpaceX’s competitors whose main sponsors are the UK government, India’s Bharti Enterprises and France’s Eutelsat, has 350 satellites in orbit and plans to double its constellation, amounting to a far smaller number than Starlink.