Satellite Broadband and IoT Markets Set to Expand as Amazon’s Prometheus Chipset Energizes Project Kuiper

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By Andrew Cavalier | 2Q 2023 | IN-6913

The adoption of satellite broadband and Internet of Things (IoT) services is rapidly increasing as more people around the world seek reliable and high-speed Internet connectivity, particularly in areas where traditional wired Internet infrastructure is not available or feasible. Recently, Amazon’s Project Kuiper, a newcomer in the satellite industry, unveiled a family of terminals designed to connect to its future satellite constellation consisting of 3,236 satellites in Low Earth Orbit (LEO). This announcement coincided with the Federal Communications Commission's (FCC) approval to completely launch and operate the constellation by July 20, 2029. Using the new Prometheus chipset and an array of specially designed user terminals, the company aims to energize the satellite broadband and IoT market by targeting consumers, enterprises, governments, and telco and private edge companies on 5G backhaul.

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Kuiper's Constellation Approval, User Terminals, and Custom Chipset


Earlier this year, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) gave Amazon's Project Kuiper the go-ahead to launch and operate its 3,236-satellite broadband constellation at altitudes of roughly 365 miles, 380 miles, and 390 miles (590 Kilometers (km), 610 km, and 630 km, respectively) in Low Earth Orbit (LEO) by July 20, 2029. Although Amazon has not yet started deploying the constellation, the company has secured significant launch contracts that will allow the entire constellation to be launched over the next 10 years. Alongside this, Amazon has just unveiled its new terminal designs for the constellation, which include a terminal for homes and small businesses, an ultra-compact design for ground mobility and the IoT, and a high-bandwidth design for enterprise, government, and telecommunications applications. A key technology powering these new terminals and satellites will be an Amazon-designed baseband chip, codenamed “Prometheus,” which combines the processing power of a 5G modem chip with cellular base station capacity (1 Terabit per second (Tbps)) and microwave backhaul antenna support. In this way, the Prometheus chip enables Kuiper satellites and terminals to handle traffic from thousands of customers and support robust point-to-point connections all while costing 1/10 of the price of commercially-available options.

Prometheus Heats Up Broadband Bandwidth and IoT Use Case Potential


The capabilities of the Project Kuiper network, unlocked by the Prometheus chipset, signal a shift in the status quo of commercially-available LEO satellite network capabilities. In this way, the purposed Tbps bandwidth of a single Kuiper satellite is significant, and once the network is fully operational will significantly increase global Internet bandwidth (a point that will galvanize competitors like Starlink and OneWeb). To put it in perspective, Starlink's existing approved satellite systems, Gen 1 (which has 4,425 satellites with a speed of about 20 Gigabits per Second (Gbps) per satellite) and Gen 2 (which has 7,500 satellites with a speed of about 80 Gbps per satellite), together provide a total system bandwidth of 688 Tbps. However, both satellite systems are still in the process of being deployed. As of 2022, the total bandwidth of global Internet infrastructure was estimated to be almost 1 Petabit per Second (Pbps). If these constellations are deployed as planned within the next decade, it will lead to the highest level of access to broadband the world has ever seen (due to connecting people beyond the boundaries of terrestrial infrastructure), and global broadband bandwidth will enter the Petabit era. To this end, the Prometheus chipset will not only drive the evolution of satellite constellation technologies, but also the ground gateways and technologies that access them.

Integral to the deployment of the Kuiper network are the ground terminals, which come in a variety of sizes (7-inch, 11-inch, and 19-inch squares) and cost options (US$400 for the mid-range model) that serve a variety of connectivity scenarios, such as the IoT, edge use cases, home, and enterprise. These consumer terminals not only address one of the key objectives of driving down costs on Satellite Communications (SatCom) user terminals, but also reflect a growing effort to optimize performance for various use cases. In this way, the most affordable and ultra-portable terminal, which weighs 1 pound (0.45 Kilogram (Kg)) and can offer speeds up to 100 Megabits per Second (Mbps), is well-positioned to address personal IoT connectivity in mobile scenarios. In such scenarios, where the user may be beyond terrestrial network coverage, the terminal can act as a gateway to connect various devices, such as laptops, smart devices, and drones. In this regard, the Kuiper terminal’s peak 100 Mbps speeds and range (likely around 100 meters) will not make it an adequate replacement for Low-Power Wide Area Network (LPWAN) technologies or suitable for edge use cases requiring real-time responsiveness, but makes it well suited for short-range wireless connectivity for end-user applications. Another limitation is that the terminals are currently not authorized to be used on moving Earth stations like ships, airplanes, cars, drones, and land vehicles. However, obtaining an Earth Station in Motion (ESIM) license is the next logical step for Kuiper's service evolution.

Evaluate Kuiper's Launch Status and Lateral Market Entry


The entry of Amazon's Kuiper network is poised to benefit both consumers and enterprises alike. The introduction of this new satellite broadband network will drive up the quality and availability of service, while also improving the cost of these services across the market. Additionally, Project Kuiper is expected to follow the path of other LEO constellations from recent years and laterally enter other connectivity segments, such as Low Energy (LE) IoT, backhaul, and New Radio (NR) Non-Terrestrial Networks (NTNs). On the other hand, monthly costs to access the service have still not been disclosed and the constellation has yet to launch any satellites in space. In this way, Communication Service Providers (CSPs), telcos, mobile phone manufacturers, and SatCom operators can navigate their opportunities with Amazon Kuiper in several ways:

  1. Evaluate the Impact of Project Kuiper: Telcos, CSPs, mobile phone manufacturers, and even SatCom operators should evaluate the impact that Project Kuiper may have on their existing business models, especially with services like satellite broadband, satellite hotspots, and even satellite-enabled IoT gateways.
  2. Partner with Amazon: Operators may also consider partnering with Amazon to provide services in areas where they may not have coverage. This could involve working with Amazon to leverage its infrastructure and provide additional services to customers or building a direct link with the constellation by introducing the Prometheus chipset into equipment, such as IoT-NTN or NR-NTN.
  3. Keep an Eye on the Competition: Amazon is not the only company developing LEO satellite Internet services. Operators should also keep an eye on the competition, such as SpaceX's Starlink and OneWeb, and evaluate how they can compete in this space.

Industry players should closely monitor the launch of Amazon's Project Kuiper and its potential impact on the industry. Providers should evaluate their existing business models and develop a response plan, which may include partnering with Amazon, investing in new technologies, or identifying new opportunities in the market. In this way, operators can tap into one of the key segments driving connectivity in our decade, bridging the digital divide for an estimated 330 million unconnected premises around the world.



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