Tampa, Fla. — Vodafone plans to test pilot services from Amazon’s planned Project Kuiper broadband constellation next year to expand the reach of its cellular networks in Europe and Africa.
The two companies said on September 5 that they had agreed a partnership that would use Amazon’s envisioned network of 3,200 satellites in low Earth orbit to provide 4G and 5G connectivity to areas where deploying terrestrial networks would be too difficult or expensive.
Vodafone and Vodafcom – the African subsidiary of the UK-based majority-owned mobile phone giant – said they are able to connect more rural and remote communities by using the Kuiper constellation to connect their widely deployed cell towers.
However, the companies did not disclose details about any commercial arrangement.
An Amazon spokesperson said initial pilots for Project Kuiper will be available to Vodafone, Vodcom and other enterprise customers by the end of 2024 after an unspecified number of satellite launches.
This is the second partnership Project Kuiper has announced with a telecom company after a similar strategic collaboration with Verizon, which said two years ago it was exploring ways to use satellites to expand connectivity services across the United States.
Vodafone is one of the largest telecom companies in Europe and is either the largest or the second largest mobile operator in most of the 21 countries in which it operates directly. Of these countries, 11 are in Europe and eight are in Africa through Vodacom.
The carrier also has partnership agreements with local operators in 46 countries to extend its reach beyond the companies it owns.
The clock is ticking
Amazon said it is preparing to launch two prototype satellites over the coming months before deploying production satellites in 2024 that will be built in-house.
KuiperSat-1 and KuiperSat-2 are scheduled to launch on one of United Launch Alliance’s remaining Atlas 5 rockets this fall, following a delay in the first flight of ULA’s Vulcan Centaur earlier this year.
Amazon has spent billions securing up to 92 Project Kuiper launches, including nine Atlas V rockets and 38 Vulcan rockets.
The other two contracted rockets — Ariane Space’s Ariane 6 and Blue Origin’s New Glenn — are years behind schedule and it’s still unknown how many months after their first launches, as Amazon races to meet regulatory deadlines for deployment.
Half of the constellation must be launched by July 2026 under the Federal Communications Commission’s authorization for Project Kuiper, and the other 1,618 satellites must be deployed before the end of 2029.
Blue Origin is owned by billionaire Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, and the contract to launch its Kuiper project recently became the subject of a lawsuit brought by the Cleveland Bakers and Teamsters Pension Fund, an Amazon shareholder.
Prosecutors argue that Amazon management acted in bad faith by awarding the bulk of Kuiper’s launches to three unproven rockets without regard to SpaceX despite its strong track record, low prices, and unmatched capability.
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