For many years the ability to have broadband Internet service in many rural and underserved parts of the world was at a standstill. In recent years, several companies have come a long way in providing broadband to underserved and rural areas worldwide. One of the biggest names is Starlink from SpaceX, which is currently beta-testing its US service. Amazon has a similar plan with its Project Kuiper that received FCC approval months ago.
Amazon has announced that Project Kuiper has hit a key milestone on the path to develop the fast and affordable constellation of broadband satellites that will operate in low Earth orbit. The plan sounds remarkably similar to Starlink. Amazon says that it recently completed initial development on the antenna for the low-cost customer terminal.
The customer terminal is a critical part of the Kuiper System, allowing the customer to connect to satellites as they pass overhead. The Ka-band phased array antenna is based on a new architecture capable of delivering high-speed, low latency broadband from a form factor smaller and lighter than legacy antenna designs. Amazon says the prototype provides speeds up to 400 Mbps, and it will continue to improve performance.
If Amazon can deliver 400 Mbps speeds once its constellation of satellites is in orbit, that will be significantly faster than what Starlink is offering currently. However, Project Kuiper will have a much smaller constellation of satellites with current plans to include 3236 low Earth orbit satellites. Starlink has plans for tens of thousands of orbiting satellites for better coverage.
One challenge with Ka-band antennas is that they require more physical separation between transmit and receive antennas to cover a wide frequency range. Legacy antennas of the type place the two antennas next to each other, requiring larger surface area, making them more expensive to produce. Project Kuiper is using a phased array antenna with a different approach. The two antenna element structures overlay one over the other, and Amazon says this has never been leveraged in the Ka-band.
The breakthrough allows a reduction in size and weight for the entire terminal while operating in frequencies able to deliver higher bandwidth and better performance. The antenna measures 12-inches in diameter, making it three times smaller and lighter than legacy designs. Amazon says a size reduction will reduce production costs and provide customers with a cheaper and easier to install terminal.