How Amazon’s Project Kuiper is bringing fast and reliable broadband globally

22nd March 2023
Harry Fowle

Project Kuiper is the name of Amazon’s low Earth orbit (LEO) satellite network that is hoping to close the global issue of digital divide.

Offering fast, affordable broadband to those in the world who are otherwise missed by traditional communication technologies, Project Kuiper is a game changer for those in need of its service. In order to use the service, customers will be required to install an outdoor antenna, called a ‘customer terminal,’ which will allow communication with the LEO satellite network.

Until recently, this sort of technology was typically far too large, complex, and not to mention expensive for many customers, especially for those who would make the most use of it. However, in late 2020, Project Kuiper engineers managed to create antenna architecture that was considerably smaller and lighter than previous designs. Since then, the team has managed to work down the price of the device to the point where it now costs less than $500 to build.

Different designs for different requirements

Amazon has recently provided a glimpse at the range of antennae on offer in its terminal portfolio, providing different versions for multiple different applications.

Centrefold of the models is the project’s standard customer terminal, designed to be a powerful commercial terminal with a wide client range. The device measures less than 11”sq and 1” thick, and weighs in at less than five pounds on its own. Amazon promises this device to deliver speeds up to 400Mbps with a price point of just under $400.

Amazon are also offering an ultra-compact design of the antenna, to help address the digital divide and get even more customers connected. This smaller version of the antenna will be Kuiper’s smallest and most affordable customer terminal. Measuring just 7”sq and 1” thick, whilst weighing just a single pound, the antenna is still capable of delivering speeds of up to 100Mbps. The price of this device is currently undisclosed, but it aims to be a much more affordable and accessible version of the customer terminals.

Finally, a high-bandwidth offering hopes to meet the most demanding needs. This is the largest of the antenna offered by Project Kuiper, for telecommunication applications that require a high calibre of bandwidth. The device measure in at a hefty 19x30”, but will be capable of delivering speeds upwards of 1Gbps.

Rajeev Badyal, Amazon’s Vice President of Technology for Project Kuiper comments: “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.

“From day one, every technology and business decision we’ve made has centred on what will deliver the best experience for different customers around the world, and our range of customer terminals reflects those choices.”

Powered by Amazon’s custom chips

Project Kuiper’s terminals are powered by Amazon’s own ‘Prometheus’ baseband chips, which utilises typical 5G modem chip processing power, the capabilities of a cellular base station, alongside the abilities of a microwave backhaul antenna all within a single chip solution.

These Prometheus chips are also being used within the LEO satellites and ground gateway antennas, ensuring effective telecommunications that can process up to 1Tbps of traffic per satellite.

Commercialising the project

Amazon has a vast network of shipping capabilities and a wealth of experience to apply to the commercialisation of its Project Kuiper ambitions as well as the design and production processes. The team at Amazon have already begun to build the infrastructure in anticipation of Project Kuiper’s successful future.

The first two of its prototype LEO satellites will seen onboard the first flight of United Launch Alliance’s (ULA) Vulcan Centaur rocket. These prototype will help Project Kuiper engineers gather a plethora of highly valuable data and let them test the end-to-end communications network.

The team has also recently began the development of a satellite production facility in Kirkland, Washington, that will be dedicated to the creation and maintenance of Project Kuiper’s LEO satellites. The team expects to be mass-producing satellites by as soon as the end of 2023, with the first official launches occurring in the first half 2024, and it’s first customers connected later that same year.

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