As several private businesses prepare to deploy massive satellite constellations in the upcoming years, a new space race is underway.
As businesses compete for the right to deliver rural broadband connectivity to billions of potential customers from above the clouds, the struggle for supremacy in the quickly evolving satellite internet industry is becoming increasingly intense.
The need for quick, reliable internet access in rural and isolated locations is growing as remote work begins to appear as though it would last long beyond the epidemic and as the global economy digitizes at an ever-increasing rate.
Satellite internet providers are rushing to fill the void, competing to provide quick, low-latency internet from space, as terrestrial carrier networks continue to experience “not spots” across significant portions of the globe and face prohibitive costs associated with bringing cutting-edge connectivity coverage like 5G to more remote areas of the globe.
Elon Musk’s Starlink and Amazon’s Project Kuiper are presently vying for a piece of the action in this emerging telecom market, albeit they are not the only contenders. One of the three major contenders in LEO (low earth orbit) satellite internet constellations and Amazon’s response to Starlink is Project Kuiper.
In April 2019, Amazon unveiled Project Kuiper for the first time. The satellite internet service was introduced by Amazon the next year with a $10 billion investment.
Project Kuiper, like Starlink, intends to keep tens of thousands of satellites in low earth orbit to broadcast and receive data from user terminals and ground stations. Although the whole deployment would take a decade or longer, the first two Project Kuiper satellite launches are scheduled for late 2022.
We will outline the distinctions between Project Kuiper and Starlink in this post. We will discuss the design of the satellite constellation, ground stations, user gear, and the deployment schedule.
What is Project Kuiper?
Amazon’s own foray into the satellite internet ring is Project Kuiper, which was announced in the spring of 2019. The anticipated satellite constellation that will sustain this network is, well, astronomically large due to the nearly endless resources Amazon can contribute, much like Starlink.
According to reports, Kuiper has spent $10 billion getting its 3,236 satellites into orbit since receiving an FCC license to start satellite launches in July of last year. Amazon stated in a news statement that “a project of this size demands tremendous work and money, and given the nature of LEO constellations, it is not the type of endeavor that can start small.”
In order to provide internet to underserved clients, Amazon’s plans for Kuiper, named after the astronomer Gerard Kuiper, call for a total of 3,236 tiny satellites in low Earth orbit.
However, this enormous leap will have to be preceded by two tiny steps, which will be the test launches that the company plans to carry out in the fourth quarter of 2022.
For these prototype missions, the business has hired a new rocket constructor. And it’s not Blue Origin, the space company founded by Jeff Bezos, the creator of Amazon, which has now organized two crewed suborbital flights, carrying people into space like Bezos and actor William Shatner.
Blue Origin hasn’t sent a cargo into space yet. Instead, Amazon will use ABL Space Systems’ RS1 rockets to launch its KuiperSat-1 and KuiperSat-2 prototypes into 367-mile-high orbits from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida, which is close to the Kennedy Space Center.
What is Starlink?
Starlink is a satellite constellation that offers high-speed internet connectivity. SpaceX’s objective with this new service is to bring high-speed, low-latency broadband internet connections to portions of the world that have historically been underserved, such as rural areas, and to presumably offer more competitive pricing in metropolitan areas. S
tarlink was first announced in 2015 by SpaceX CEO Elon Musk (of Tesla fame). Since then, the program has launched around 2,000 satellites, with more on the way.
Musk eventually plans thousands of satellites circulating in low Earth orbit to connect with all of Starlink’s ground transceivers. Customers install a rather tiny satellite receiver in their homes to connect to the satellites. These satellite terminals, whose most recent iterations received FCC approval in November 2021, can be set up anywhere there is a clear view of the sky.
The majority of individuals discover that the best performance comes from placing it very high, either on a mast or on the roof of their home. Using the Starlink app, which is compatible with both Android and iOS, you can determine where your equipment should be placed.
The service can sustain download rates of 50 to 150 Mbps and upload speeds of around 10 Mbps, according to the Starlink website. Whether playing games, working remotely, streaming content, or taking online courses, that speed should be adequate for most household needs.
Due to ongoing efforts to expand the number of satellites in orbit for coverage, Starlink occasionally experiences disruptions. Finding a location to set up their dish so they can receive constant service throughout the day is usually the largest challenge for customers.
Naturally, this is the reason the Starlink beta phase is referred to be “Better Than Nothing.”
Project Kuiper Vs Starlink
1. Satellites in existence
Starlink had more than 2,000 satellites in orbit as of April 2022. No satellites from Project Kuiper are currently in orbit, but their first two are expected to launch in the latter half of 2022. For around 12,000 satellites, the FCC has approved SpaceX’s Starlink.
Starlink has said openly in the upcoming decades that it can add 30,000 satellites to its fleet. For their constellation, Project Kuiper has produced designs for 3,276 satellites.
Both businesses are planning for a worldwide network. Both networks might serve millions of users globally who would not have access to broadband internet after full satellite deployment.
2. Satellite deployment and launch
Since May 2019, Starlink has begun launching satellites. They have conducted about 40 launches, placing 60 satellites on each one. Until they accomplish their target of 12,000 operational satellites, the business intends to continue launching at a comparable rate.
No satellites from Project Kuiper are currently in orbit.
Launches for the first two are planned for the end of 2022. Project Kuiper inked launch agreements in April 2022 with three significant operators for a total of 83 launches over the following ten years.
3. Altitude of Orbit
Satellites in low earth orbit are both used by Project Kuiper and Starlink (LEO). An orbit that is less than 1,200 miles above the earth is referred to as LEO. The user’s perception of less latency is one benefit of operating satellites in LEO.
Starlink has already shown real-world latency as low as 20ms, which is competitive with fixed broadband. The satellites that are used by established satellite internet service providers like Viasat and HughesNet are in geosynchronous orbit, which is located around 22,000 miles above the planet.
High latency is produced, often exceeding 600ms, by this great distance. This makes their services unsuitable for many latency-sensitive internet operations, including online gaming.
The 340-mile orbital height of the Starlink satellites. The Project Kuiper satellites will orbit between 370 and 390 miles above the earth.
4. Device Hardware
A tiny dish-shaped user interface for Starlink houses a phased array antenna. The dish weighs roughly 11 pounds and is about the size of a pizza plate.
A Wi-Fi router and a mounting base are also included in the hardware package. The various mounting and cable routing kits that are available as accessories are offered individually.
The user terminal for Project Kuiper has not yet been made public. But according to Amazon, it will be more compact and lighter than Starlink’s dish.
The main objective of Project Kuiper’s user terminal is to be inexpensive in order to increase manufacturing effectiveness. Project Kuiper’s antenna will use phased array technology, just like the Starlink dish.
When compared to other satellite internet choices, Starlink performs admirably. As of Q4 2021, the average download speed was about 100 Mbps, while the average upload speed was about 12 Mbps.
The latency is comparable to fixed broadband at 20–40 ms. Given that providers like HughesNet and Viasat have latency values exceeding 600ms, the latency performance is extremely outstanding.
Starlink is suitable for latency-sensitive applications like online gaming, unlike rivals. For its planned satellite internet service, Project Kuiper has not disclosed any performance targets.
We anticipate speeds to be comparable to Starlink because the phased array antenna can download data at rates of more than 300 Mbps.
Due to both satellites being launched at around the same height, which is the main factor affecting latency with satellite internet, Project Kuiper’s latency should be comparable to Starlink’s.
The initial cost of the Starlink hardware package is $599. There are no contracts or early termination fees, and the monthly subscription rate is $110 per month.
Inflation was the only factor cited by Starlink as the primary cause of the cost rise for consumers in March 2022. The hardware originally cost $499, and the monthly subscription fee was set at $99 per month.
Although the price of Project Kuiper has not yet been disclosed, Amazon has stated that they want to provide competitive pricing. We anticipate Project Kuiper to match or even decrease the cost of Starlink, given Amazon’s dedication to providing a less expensive user terminal.
7. Available Services
A public beta for Starlink started in November 2019. Currently, the service is accessible in a large number of nations worldwide. Starlink has over 250,000 members, and another 500,000 clients are on waiting. The early stages of Project Kuiper’s development are currently ongoing.
The project was revealed in 2019, and according to Amazon, two satellites would be operating by 2022. There isn’t much information available now on how Project Kuiper intends to introduce its services to clients.
We don’t currently have a lot of in-depth knowledge regarding Project Kuiper. What we do know is that Project Kuiper will roll out global satellite internet using low-cost user terminals and LEO satellites, which is quite similar to Starlink.
The critical information about performance and cost will need to be delayed.
In addition to such specifics, it is still unclear whether Amazon would provide direct customer service similar to Starlink. Amazon might use regional businesses, independent contractors, etc. to deliver its satellite internet service.