When it comes to satellite internet, Starlink from SpaceX has grabbed most of the headlines. But there is also Project Kuiper from Amazon that aims to deliver fast low-latency internet access around the globe.
Project Kuiper from Amazon
A core goal of Project Kuiper is to help close the digital divide both in terms of the availability gap and the affordability gap. Furthermore, Amazon is not limiting its sights to the U.S. but rather the entire world. It aims to do this with its own low-Earth satellite constellation.
Satellite internet providers in the U.S.—such as Viasat and HughesNet—have traditionally used geostationary satellites. That means that they have a fixed location relative to the Earth and rotate at the same speed that it does. The LEO satellites that Amazon plans to use orbit the Earth and complete an orbit every 90 to 120 minutes. The satellites in the constellation work in conjunction by transmitting data between each other, which allows much faster speeds than has previously been possible.
Under the Radar
Project Kuiper is quite similar to Starlink in terms of its design and goals. There is also another project similar to both of them called OneWeb. If you are wondering why you have heard so much about Starlink and so little about Project Kuiper and OneWeb, that is because SpaceX is far ahead of the competition. Amazon has not launched any of its LEO satellites yet, and while it continues to provide us updates about its expectations, much of these details are still fluid and certainly not set in stone.
Project Kuiper Launch Date
To provide you some context, consider that SpaceX launched its first 60 satellites in May 2019. It began its Starlink beta program in October 2020, and it intends for the service to be publicly available by the end of 2021. Amazon has not launched a single satellite yet. Its FCC authorization gives it to 2026 to do so, and the expectation is that public availability of the service is probably three years out. But at this point, Amazon has still not indicated when it plans to send up its first series of satellites.
Project Kuiper Pricing
Amazon has not announced pricing yet or even really hinted at it except for the fact that the company has emphasized a commitment to being affordable. There is some doubt within the industry that Amazon will be able to undercut Starlink. With Starlink, the focus has been being price competitive with the cable and fiber-optic internet companies. It has done that for the most part with a single internet plan that costs $99 per month, but there is also a $500 initial equipment fee. Based on initial Amazon designs, its antenna may be cheaper to manufacture than Starlink. Perhaps one way it could make its internet service more appealing would be to eliminate or at least reduce the startup cost.
Project Speeds: Project Kuiper vs. Starlink
Amazon currently estimates that it can deliver a 400 Mbps throughput. That is far better than most other satellite internet services and even many cable providers. But it falls shy of the 1 Gbps fiber optic can deliver, and Starlink asserts that it will be able to achieve those speeds. In beta, Starlink has been able to deliver 100 Mbps thus far and has continued to improve performance each month.
What the Future Holds
Competition drives innovation and lower prices. The success of Project Kuiper is good for us all. That said, Amazon already has a hill to climb. Starlink is far ahead of its own schedule, and it will have several years to increase its performance and lower its prices before Project Kuiper even goes public.