Amazon Might Follow Starlink’s Footsteps By Subsidizing User Dishes

The main board for Amazon's user terminal for its Kuiper satellite internet service visible at the bottom of an image taken inside the company's facilities. Image: Amazon

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The ongoing tussle between Space Exploration Technologies Corp.'s (SpaceX) Starlink satellite internet service and Amazon seems to have revealed an important detail for the latter's Kuiper satellite constellation. Amazon and Starlink have been butting heads at several Federal Communications Commission (FCC) proceedings, with the former generally opposing the latter's proposed changes to its satellite constellation on the grounds that they will negatively impact the operating environment for the Kuiper internet service once it becomes operational.

The latest tussle between the two surrounds Starlink's decision to include SpaceX's new rocket currently under development in Boca Chica, Texas, in its plans for launching and operating the second generation spacecraft of its internet satellite constellation. A recent filing by Amazon opposing this decision reveals that the company has updated the FCC about the progress of its Kuiper internet service, which includes details for Kuiper's user terminal.

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Amazon Shares Details For Its Kuiper Satellite Internet Service In Meeting With FCC Officials

This tussle has seen SpaceX's director of satellite policy accuse Amazon of slowing down competitors while failing to develop its own service. In a letter filed with the Commission at the end of last month, the SpaceX executive claimed that the bulk of Amazon's comments and submissions to the FCC were related to other satellite internet networks instead of its own.

Back then, he outlined that:

The Commission issued an order in July 2020 informing Amazon that it had not provided sufficient information about how its proposed system would protect others from interference or meet the Commission’s rules for orbital debris. But while Amazon has filed nothing with the Commission to address these conditions on its own license for nearly 400 days, it took only 4 days to object to SpaceX’s next-generation NGSO system. In fact, Amazon has not had a single meeting with the Commission this year about how it intends to resolve the Commission’s interference or safety concerns, but it has had 15 meetings in that same span just about SpaceX. While Amazon has waited 15 months to explain how its system works, it has lodged objections to SpaceX on average about every 16 days this year.

Specifications for its Kuiper satellite internet terminal were revealed by Amazon late last year. Image: Amazon

Amazon seems to have taken heed of Mr. Goldman's comments, as it shares some details of a meeting company representatives held with FCC officials early last week. The information, which comes in the form of an FCC Ex Parte notice, reveals that Amazon might also subsidize its satellite user terminals once it launches the Kuiper internet service.

The Ex Parte letter outlines that:

Kuiper System. Amazon provided an update on the Kuiper System, including recent engineering developments leading to the high-speed, low-latency broadband that Amazon will deliver via its affordable customer terminal.

For those unfamiliar with the details, Starlink is heavily subsidizing its user terminals to ensure that users wishing to sign up for the service can afford the equipment. According to statements made by SpaceX chief Mr. Elon Musk in late June, it costs Starlink more than $1,000 to manufacture each terminal, and the company plans to reduce terminal manufacturing costs later this year, outlined its chief financial officer earlier this month.

Amazon shared details for the Kuiper service's terminal late last year when it announced the completion of the "initial development" for its "low-cost customer terminal."

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According to details shared by the company, this terminal will integrate its transmitting and receiving antennas on the same plane. The integration reduces antenna size and complexity, which in turn drives down its costs.

Amazon's latest FCC meeting arks a rare occasion where the company has acknowledged discussing its satellite service with the regulatory body. The Kuiper satellite constellation will consist of 3,326 satellites, and Amazon plans to spend over $10 billion to set up the network.

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