Vodacom will use Project Kuiper satellites to extend 4G/5G network

  • Amazon’s Project Kuiper hopes to get remote areas online and it’s bringing telecommunications on board to assist.
  • This week Vodafone and Vodacom announced they’d be partnering with Amazon to extend their 4G/5G networks using satellite connectivity.
  • Beta testing of Project Kuiper is only expected to begin in 2024.

Beaming the internet from space to Earth has proven to be a rather nifty way of solving connectivity problems. Clusters of satellites in low Earth orbit (LEO) deliver broadband internet to ground stations where it can be used.

These solutions were rather pricey until the likes of SpaceX’s Starlink arrived (in other parts of the world) offering a more palatable if still premium price.

Amazon has its own such project in Project Kuiper. Like Starlink, Project Kuiper seeks to beam the internet from satellites to areas that aren’t able to access the internet by other means.

This week Vodacom and Vodafone announced they’d be leaning on the project to improve their networks.

The telecommunications firms will extend their 4G and 5G networks to areas that prove challenging and prohibitively expensive to expand to. This will be accomplished by setting up a tower in those sorts of areas and connecting that tower to the Vodacom or Vodafone network via Project Kuiper satellites. The satellites in this instance would essentially function as a gateway through which the telcos could extend their network.

“At Vodacom, our purpose is to connect for a better future, and we work every day to bring more people in Africa online,” chief executive officer for the Vodacom Group, Shameel Joosub said in a statement.

“Collaborating with Project Kuiper gives us an exciting new path to scale our efforts, using Amazon’s satellite constellation to quickly reach more customers across the African continent,” the CEO adds.

Don’t expect this to happen soon though. Amazon is currently preparing two Project Kuiper satellite prototypes for testing “in the coming months”. Production satellites will be deployed in 2024 when beta testing begins so it will be a while still before we see the benefit of this collaboration.

Eventually, Amazon hopes to put 3 200 satellites into LEO. These satellites will be delivered to space via Arianespace, Blue Origin, and United Launch Alliance over 83 launches.

“Amazon is building Project Kuiper to provide fast, affordable broadband to tens of millions of customers in unserved and underserved communities, and our flexible network means we can connect places that have traditionally been difficult to reach,” senior vice president for devices and services at Amazon, Dave Limp said in a statement.

Margherita Della Valle, Vodafone Group Chief Executive and Dave Limp, Amazon’s senior vice president for devices and services

“Teaming with a leading international service provider like Vodafone allows us to make a bigger impact faster in closing the digital divide in Europe and Africa. Together we’ll explore how we can help our customers get the most value from expanded connectivity, particularly in areas like residential broadband, agriculture, education, healthcare, transportation, and financial services,” Limp added.

The companies are also exploring additional enterprise-specific offerings to provide businesses with comprehensive global connectivity solutions, such as backup service for unexpected events and extending connectivity to remote infrastructure. 

Whether Project Kuiper would arrive in South Africa for consumers is an unknown at this stage but we have to say we’re doubtful.

The minister of communications and digital technologies, Mondli Gungebele has previously said, “…for Starlink to operate in South Africa, they require… individual IECS/IECNS applicants or licensees to have a minimum 30% equity ownership held by persons from historically disadvantaged groups.”

We doubt the rules would change for Amazon although perhaps Jeff Bezos is more willing to negotiate than Elon Musk is.


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