Amazon took another major step toward the completion of Project Kuiper, its effort to provide internet access via satellite, by acquiring a team of more than a dozen Facebook employees based in Los Angeles in April to work on the initiative.
Amazon paid Facebook an undisclosed amount as part of the deal, which now has the employees working on delivering internet connectivity from “low Earth orbit satellites,” according to a report by The Information confirmed by a Facebook spokesperson.
The transaction means Facebook is scrapping its plans to deliver internet connectivity to remote areas using its own satellites, an effort that started in 2018 as a way “to bring broadband connectivity to rural regions where internet connectivity is lacking or nonexistent.” Facebook had also tried to use internet drones to bring connectivity to remote areas, but ended that effort in 2018.
Amazon first started exploring satellite-based internet connectivity in 2019, with plans that include a $10 billion investment that will launch 3,236 satellites into a low-earth orbit by 2029. The goal is the same as the one Facebook just scrapped: internet for “unserved and underserved communities around the world.”
Amazon estimates that it will be able to provide internet connectivity to 95 percent of the world’s population through this initiative. About four billion people worldwide don’t have reliable internet access today.
The FCC approved Amazon’s network plan last year, and the company plans to launch half of its satellites by 2026. The company is building a lab in Redmond, Washington, according to The Information, and about 500 Amazon employees are working on Project Kuiper.
Amazon signed an agreement with rocket operator United Launch Alliance for nine satellite launches, but hasn’t yet said when they will materialize.
SpaceX has said it will launch almost 12,000 satellites into orbit in the name of internet connectivity.
The 5G networks powering these satellites are said to deliver data and content at speeds significantly faster than 4G networks. PYMNTS’ Intelligence of Things Tracker reported that 5G can help cities, individuals and healthcare providers manage through disruptions to data flows.
When Amazon’s satellite program became public in a 2019 International Telecommunications Union filing, company leaders called it “a long-term project that envisions serving tens of millions of people who lack basic access to broadband internet.”
Amazon Founder Jeff Bezos confirmed that Project Kuiper will cost “multiple billions of dollars.” The product is separate from Blue Origin LLC, which is Bezos’ space launch vehicle maker.
The company said in its FCC filing that it will help serve communities in the U.S. “by offering fixed broadband communications services to rural and hard-to-reach areas.”
Satellites have to race around the world to stay airborne at low-Earth orbit through altitudes of roughly 112 to 1,200 miles, and must finish orbits within an hour and a half. When a satellite heads toward the horizon, it will pass along its signal duties to another satellite. In its FCC application, Amazon said its satellites would operate at altitudes of roughly 370 to 390 miles.