This past week, Amazon and Verizon announced a partnership to offer satellite internet in rural areas. Amazon is working to expand rural broadband coverage with satellites, and Verizon will help improve the fixed wireless internet access in these places that may not have had internet available. Amazon is slated to have half its satellites in orbit by 2026 and 100% by 2029.
Why is this partnership announcement blogworthy? It symbolizes a race with SpaceX and others to bring internet/broadband to places around the United States and the world for the first time.
To understand this race, let’s first examine the internet access problem the world is facing and what companies are offering to do to solve the issue.
The pandemic has shown all of us how important having access to the internet is. From schools setting coursework online to offices being forced remotely with little warning, the internet has been the answer to many pandemic-related lockdown issues. But what about the people who don’t have access?
Globally, only 55% of households have an internet connection, according to UNESCO. In the developed world, 87% have access to the internet compared with 47% in developing countries. Only 19% of households have internet in the least developed countries. In total, 3.7 billion people have no internet access.
In the United States, over 21 million people do not have access to high-speed internet. A Microsoft project, Airband, has revealed that 19 million unconnected households in America are in rural areas. Microsoft’s research has found that more than 157 million American’s don’t use the internet at broadband speeds of at least 25Mbps.
Starlink aims to bring high-speed satellite internet to many of the 3.7 billion people on the planet who currently have no internet connection at all. While most satellite internet services today come from single geostationary satellites that orbit the planet at about 35,000km, Starlink is a constellation of multiple satellites that orbit the planet much closer to Earth, at about 550km, and cover the entire globe.
Because Starlink satellites are in a low orbit, the round-trip data time between the user and the satellite – also known as latency – is much lower than with satellites in geostationary orbit. This enables Starlink to deliver services like online gaming that are usually not possible on other satellite broadband systems.
Starlink is ideally suited for areas where connectivity has been unreliable or completely unavailable. People across the globe are using Starlink to gain access to education, health services and even communications support during natural disasters.
Project Kuiper is an initiative to increase global broadband access through a constellation of 3,236 satellites in low Earth orbit (LEO) around the planet. The system will serve individual households, as well as schools, hospitals, businesses and other organizations operating in places where internet access is limited or unavailable. Amazon has committed an initial $10 billion to the program, which will deliver fast, affordable broadband to customers and communities around the world.
Project Kuiper will deliver high-speed, low-latency broadband service to places beyond the reach of traditional fiber or wireless networks. It is inspired by customers in every corner of the world: by families working and learning together from home; by scientists and researchers operating in remote locations; by first responders providing disaster relief; and by companies of all sizes moving their business online. Project Kuiper will serve individual households, as well as schools, hospitals, businesses and other organizations operating in places without reliable broadband.
OneWeb is a global communications network powered by a constellation of 650 LEO satellites. Headquartered in London, OneWeb enables high-speed, low latency connectivity for governments, businesses, and communities everywhere around the world. OneWeb’s satellites provide affordable, fast, high bandwidth, low-latency communication services.
In October 2020, OneWeb was acquired by UK Government and the Bharti Group, as well as additional investment from SoftBank and Hughes Network Group, a key technology partner.
Throughout 2021, OneWeb is testing its network and conducting demonstrations with key customers in readiness for commercial services above the 50th parallel north before end of year, and then globally in 2022.
Race Results Thus Far
Project Kuiper is scheduled to launch in the fourth quarter of 2022. This launch will formally kick off its competition with Starlink and OneWeb, for beaming high-speed internet connections to customers from low Earth orbit.
Amazon and Project Kuiper are currently behind SpaceX and Starlink, as the Falcon 9 rockets have launched 2,000 internet-beaming satellites into orbit. Thousands of customers are already testing the SpaceX service for $99 a month with $499 antenna kits.
While OneWeb has launched 358 satellites into orbit. The company is building a constellation of 648 satellites, which will beam broadband internet service to people around the globe.
Who do you think will come ahead in the race to connect the world?