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Verizon chooses Amazon as its LEO satellite buddy

US operator Verizon has announced its collaboration with Amazon’s Project Kuiper to help it with its 5G coverage challenges.

Project Kuiper is Amazon’s low earth orbit (LEO) satellite initiative, designed to compete with Elon Musk’s Starlink and UK-based OneWeb in the next-generation satellite connectivity market. Being closer to the earth, LEO satellite connectivity has advantages over the geostationary equivalent, including lower latency.

Verizon seems to have signed some sort of strategic partnership agreement with Amazon through which it will have provided the kind of long-term commitment that helps with capital-intensive project such as lobbing loads of satellites into space. It should be stresses, however, that these LEO satellites don’t connect directly to devices, unlike Lynk.

“Project Kuiper offers flexibility and unique capabilities for a LEO satellite system, and we’re excited about the prospect of adding a complementary connectivity layer to our existing partnership with Amazon,” said Verizon CEO Hans Vestberg. “We know the future will be built on our leading 5G network, designed for mobility, fixed wireless access and real-time cloud compute.

“More importantly, we believe that the power of this technology must be accessible for all. Today’s announcement will help us explore ways to bridge that divide and accelerate the benefits and innovation of wireless connectivity, helping benefit our customers on both a global and local scale.”

It seems this will mainly take the form of providing wireless backhaul to remote base stations, which seems to be just the sort of thing Project Kuiper and its competitors are set up to do. You can see why this would be especially appealing to Verizon, for whom coverage is a weakness having dropped the ball on long-range low frequency spectrum in favour of a baffling bet on millimetre wave.

“There are billions of people without reliable broadband access, and no single company will close the digital divide on its own,” said Amazon CEO Andy Jassy. “Verizon is a leader in wireless technology and infrastructure, and we’re proud to be working together to explore bringing fast, reliable broadband to the customers and communities who need it most. We look forward to partnering with companies and organizations around the world who share this commitment.”

The new partnership will also look at new B2B services it will enable Verizon to offer, which will include things like agricultural IoT. “Smart farms, bringing technology to agriculture, and connecting the last mile of rural America will be at the forefront of helping our industry to provide food for billions around the globe,” said Betsy Huber, President of The National Grange. “Ensuring connectivity in rural areas will be key to making these endeavours a success.”

Before long every operator worth its salt will need to have an LEO-powered rural coverage strategy. There are presumably some advantages to going all-in with one LEO provider but Amazon seems like an especially big bet, given its status as the number one public cloud player. Verizon had better make sure its relationship with Amazon, on whom it already relies for a bunch of mobile edge computing stuff, remains strong and healthy.


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