Amazon’s Project Kuiper aims to deliver fast, affordable broadband services through a constellation of more than 3,000 satellites in low Earth orbit (LEO). The company already has 1,000 people working on the project, in a bid to empower millions of people around the world who lack a reliable Internet connection. Amazon is also working to bring its Project Kuiper satellite-based broadband connectivity to India, where it will take over Elon Musk’s Starlink, among others.
Earlier this year, Amazon unveiled a series of consumer terminals that will help connect to its high-bandwidth satellite network. The company said its designs are smaller, more affordable and more capable than competitors.
Gadgets 360 spoke with Naveen Kachroo, director of product management and business development for Project Kuiper to understand Amazon’s plans to bring its satellite broadband Internet service to countries like India and how the company will compete with Elon Musk’s Starlink.
Note: Some responses have been condensed and slightly edited for clarity.
Gadgets 360: How many people are working on Project Kuiper at Amazon right now?
Naveen Kachroo: We have over 1,000 people now. We have a main location in Redmond, Washington, and we have additional locations under development across the United States. We have some regulatory teams in Washington DC, and then we have development offices in Austin and San Diego.
Gadgets 360: What is the current status of the project now?
Naveen Kachroo: We are currently excited about launching our two satellite prototypes, which is our first orbital mission. The rest of the teams are building production satellites, so we will continue to build through the remainder of 2023 and then do initial launches in 2024.
Gadgets 360: How is Amazon’s Project Kuiper different from Elon Musk’s Starlink?
Naveen Kachroo: For us, we work backwards from the customer’s needs. What we’re trying to achieve is the service cost target that we have. We believe that if the cost of the equipment is too expensive or the service is too expensive, then it will be kind of niche and nobody will use it. For us, the goal is to get really affordable equipment and services first. Ultimately, the goal is to provide a high quality service at a low cost.
Second, we want to make sure it’s flexible enough to serve many different segments. Thus, we want to serve residential customers, schools, hospitals, enterprises, IoT use cases, mobility, transportation and government. So, from day one, we designed it to be a flexible software-defined network. It looks a bit like a 5G network, but you can run different types of traffic.
Third, we take a slightly different approach to approaching the market. We are willing to do local and regional partnerships, and we have different partner operators who have the same idea to solve connectivity problems. We are very open to this kind of discussion.
Gadgets 360: How long would it take to cover the entire planet?
Naveen Kachroo: To cover the entire planet, we need to deploy 50% of the constellation by June 2026. The minute we do that, we’ll have coverage of between +/- 56 degrees.
Gadgets 360: Any plans to bring Project Kuiper to India?
Naveen Kachroo: We are very excited to bring it to India! And we think there’s a huge opportunity in India, Southeast Asia, Africa, South America, there’s a huge opportunity for all of us. We are actively working on it as we speak. In India, we’re working with the government, we’re working with potential partners. We have nothing to announce today, but India is a very important opportunity for us.
Gadgets 360: There’s a lot of talk about making it affordable, but how is that possible given that satellites and space launches can be very expensive?
Naveen Kachroo: What we’ve done, at least from our point of view, is we’re designing everything internally. The biggest advantage of this is that you get to control costs. It also lets you control performance, security, and IP. That way, we don’t have to deal with the long supply chain or worry about margins. We can control costs, control IP, and control cost savings.
Second, we’ve done a lot of innovation when it comes to client terminals. Amazon is known for creating cost-effective, high-quality products. We can take full advantage of Amazon’s device division. Many players do not have this benefit. We also work with AWS, the entire Kuiper network is built on top of AWS.
Gadgets 360: What would a typical installation process look like with Project Kuiper? Especially for someone for example who is located in a remote village in India or elsewhere
Naveen Kachroo: Depending on the country, depending on the region, we will have self-installation and professional installation services. Our goal is to encourage self-installation. For example, you will receive a package with all the equipment — outdoor antennas, indoor units, Wi-Fi router, cables and bracket. The process is very simple, just install the external antennas, point them to the sky, you need to assemble them. A single cable needs to be connected to your router, that’s it. Professional installations will be available where needed in specific use cases.
Gadget 360: Any tips on Project Kuiper pricing, especially for emerging markets?
Naveen Kachroo: We don’t have anything to announce today, but the way of thinking is that we will do regional pricing. So it wouldn’t be a single price for the entire planet. Each region will have its own set of tariff plans in different segments.
Disclosure: Amazon sponsored the correspondent’s air tickets and accommodation for the event in Seattle, in the United States.