Competition in the space broadband internet market is set to become intense.
Amazon.com has filed a request to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) seeking to launch 3,236 communications satellites. This is a signal Amazon is bracing to take on Elon Musk-led Space X in the lucrative business.
Amazon’s July 4 filing to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) commits thousands of Kuiper belt satellites to deliver broadband to millions of consumers hitherto nit having access to the internet.
The FCC handles trajectories and usage of radio-frequencies.
The business model involves offering internet service from low orbits where SpaceX has already made a debut by launching 60 satellites or spacecraft in May. The FCC has approved nearly 13,000 low-Earth orbit satellites including 11,943 from SpaceX.
Low-earth orbit implies transits are confined to altitudes ranging from 112 to 1,200 miles (or 180 to 2,000 km). Amazon’s FCC filing says its satellites would operate at altitudes of 370-to-390 miles.
These tiny satellites run around the globe in as little as 90 minutes and pass signal duties to the next satellite as they move toward the horizon.
This requires the supply of thousands of satellites for ensuring sustained and widespread coverage. That is what makes the project hugely cost intensive before the financial returns flow in.
Amazon’s ambitious project
Amazon Chief Executive Officer Jeff Bezos said the Kuiper project will incur “multiple billions of dollars.” However, it will remain a standalone project and stay separate from Bezos’s Blue Origin LLC that is into space launch vehicle making.
The Kuiper System, per Amazon application, will offer “high-throughput mobile broadband connectivity services for aircraft, maritime vessels, and land vehicles.”
Amazon also cited surveys by FCC that showed 21 million Americans lack fixed, residential broadband and 33 million Americans have no access to speedy mobile service.
Globally, 3.8 billion people are deprived of fast and reliable broadband service, Amazon’s application noted.
“The project will serve tens of millions of people lacking basic access to broadband internet,” Bezos said in a filing with the International Telecommunications Union.
Antennas are required to track satellites when they transit through the sky and laser communications are needed for spacecraft communications. These make projects quite hardware intensive.
SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell also mentioned the high investment required for Starlink before ROI is assured.
“No one has been successful in deploying a huge constellation for Internet broadband. I don’t think physics is the difficulty here. I think we can come up with the right technology solution, but we need to make a business out of it,” she said.
According to Musk, Starlink service would aim an average 3 percent of the $30 billion space broadband market. The overall global Internet connectivity market is in the size of $1-trillion.
More competition coming
Besides SpaceX and Amazon, many other space-broadband aspirants are in the fray. They include London-based OneWeb and America’s LeoSat Enterprises that has a collaboration with European satellite maker Thales Alenia Space.
Boeing has also approached FCC with a pitch to launch own constellation satellites for satellite broadband.