Today at the 2021 Mobile World Congress (MWC) Los Angeles CA, Verizon and Amazon announced a strategic collaboration that will combine Verizon’s 5G wireless network with Amazon’s Project Kuiper constellation of low-Earth orbit (LEO) satellites. The first offering from the new partnership will backhaul Verizon’s cell sites through Amazon’s LEO satellites, enabling Verizon to offer fixed wireless access (FWA) in unconnected rural or underserved areas.
As part of the collaboration, Project Kuiper and Verizon have begun to develop technical specifications [1.] and define preliminary commercial models for a range of connectivity services for U.S. consumers and global enterprise customers operating in rural and remote locations around the world.
Note 1. There are no 3GPP specifications or ITU recommendations for the use of LEO satellites for 5G (IMT 2020/ITU-R M.2150) backhaul. Therefore, new carrier specifications are needed for 5G RANs to use LEO satellite networks for backhaul.
However, 3GPP is planning to include non-terrestrial networks (NTN) and to address satellite’s role in the 5G vision in their Release 17 package of specifications, to be released next year. You can read an overview of 3GPP NTN’s here.
ITU-R SG 4 is responsible for Satellite services. That includes Systems and networks for the fixed-satellite service, mobile-satellite service, broadcasting-satellite service and radiodetermination-satellite service. In particular,
ITU-R WP4B carries out studies on performance, availability, air interfaces and earth-station equipment of satellite systems in the FSS, BSS and MSS. This group has paid particular attention to the studies of Internet Protocol (IP)-related system aspects and performance and has developed new and revised Recommendations and Reports on IP over satellite to meet the growing need for satellite links to carry IP traffic. This group has close cooperation with the ITU Telecommunication Standardization Sector. Of particular interest are:
- Terms of Reference for Working Party 4B Correspondence Group on satellite radio interface technologies for the satellite component of IMT-2020.
- Working document towards a preliminary draft new Report ITU-R M.[XYZ.ABC] on Vision and requirements for satellite radio interface(s) of IMT-2020
Amazon’s Project Kuiper is an initiative to increase global broadband access through a constellation of 3,236 satellites in low Earth orbit (LEO) around the planet. The system will serve individual households, as well as schools, hospitals, businesses and other organizations operating in places where internet access is limited or unavailable. Amazon has committed an initial $10 billion to the program, which will deliver fast, affordable broadband to customers and communities around the world.
The Verizon-Amazon partnership seeks to expand coverage and deliver new customer-focused connectivity solutions that combine Amazon’s advanced LEO satellite system and Verizon’s world-class wireless technology and infrastructure. To begin, Amazon and Verizon will focus on expanding Verizon data networks using cellular backhaul solutions from Project Kuiper. The integration will leverage antenna development already in progress from the Project Kuiper team, and both engineering teams are now working together to define technical requirements to help extend fixed wireless coverage to rural and remote communities across the United States.
Verizon Chairman and CEO Hans Vestberg said, “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. 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.”
Amazon CEO Andy Jassy said, “There are billions of people without reliable broadband access, and no single company will close the digital divide on its own. 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.”
This partnership will also pave the way for Project Kuiper and Verizon to design and deploy new connectivity solutions across a range of domestic and global industries, from agriculture and energy to manufacturing and transportation. The Kuiper System is designed with the flexibility and capacity to support enterprises of all sizes. By pairing those capabilities with Verizon’s wireless, private networking and edge compute solutions, the two will be able to extend connectivity to businesses operating and deploying assets on a global scale.
Betsy Huber, President, The National Grange said: “The agriculture industry is going to see dramatic changes in how it operates and succeeds in the next several years. 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. Ensuring connectivity in rural areas will be key to making these endeavors a success. We’re excited to see the leadership from both companies working together to help take our industry to the next level.”
Financial analysts at New Street Research said the opportunity could be worth billions of dollars to the two companies. Specifically, they argued that Verizon’s wireless network currently does not cover around 7 million Americans. “If 50% of these people become Kuiper/Verizon customers and assuming Verizon’s phone ARPU [average revenue per user] of ~$60, there could be $2.4 billion in annual revenue,” they wrote.
Amazon and Verizon have previously teamed up to serve customers across many industries, including integrating Verizon’s 5G Edge MEC platform with AWS Wavelength and forming the Voice Interoperability Initiative. This collaboration builds on the relationship between the two companies, and lays the groundwork for Amazon and Verizon to serve additional consumer and global enterprise customers around the world.
Executives from Verizon and Amazon hinted that backhaul is only the start of the companies’ new partnership. They noted that Verizon’s plan to use Amazon’s LEO satellites is just the latest in a long line of pairings between the companies stretching from edge computing to private wireless networks.
“We’ve worked with Verizon on many complex projects over the years,” Amazon SVP David Limp said during a keynote presentation at MWC LA. Limp said Amazon continues to design and build its LEO satellites at the company’s Redmond, Washington, offices.
Verizon’s Chief Strategy Officer Rima Qureshi suggested Amazon and Verizon would explore other offerings beyond cell-site backhaul in the future. She said the companies would pursue “joint solutions” for large enterprise customers in industries stretching from agriculture to energy to education. She also said Verizon and Amazon would look for opportunities both domestically and internationally.
Qureshi noted Verizon’s deal with Nokia to deploy a private 5G network for Southampton in the UK – the largest of the 21 Associated British Ports. She suggested an Amazon-powered satellite component to that offering could extend connectivity beyond the port and into the ocean.
A spokesman for Verizon told Bloomberg it’s a global partnership with Amazon and it’s open to exploring similar deals with other companies, but declined to comment on the finances of the deal.
5G wireless telco’s deals with LEO satellite companies:
This new alliance between Verizon and Project Kuiper comes six weeks after AT&T made a similar deal with LEO satellite operator OneWeb. Just like Verizon, AT&T said it would use that agreement LEO (OneWeb) satellites to extend its connectivity reach to hard-to-serve areas that fall outside of AT&T’s fiber footprint or are beyond the reach of AT&T’s cell towers. AT&T said it would use LEO technology to enhance connectivity when connecting to its enterprise, small and medium-sized business and government customers as well as hard-to-reach cell towers.
In January, KDDI in Japan said it would use Starlink – the LEO offering from Elon Musk’s SpaceX – to connect 1,200 of its remote cell towers with backhaul. KDDI said it would begin offering services under that new teaming as soon as next year.
However, Project Kuiper is way behind both Starlink and OneWeb in terms of satellite deployments. As noted by GeekWire, Starlink already counts 1,650 satellites in orbit (and around 100,000 users), while OneWeb’s constellation is now up to around 358 satellites. Amazon, meantime, has received FCC approvals for the operation of more than 3,000 LEO satellites but has yet to launch any of them. Amazon has committed $10 billion toward the construction of its Kuiper LEO satellite network.
To learn more about partnering with Amazon and the Project Kuiper team, email [email protected]
Microsoft Corp. is partnering with SpaceX to use the latter’s Starlink satellite internet service, as the software giant opens a new front in its cloud-computing battle with Amazon.com Inc. targeting space customers. Starlink is SpaceX’s ambitious plan to build an interconnected internet network with thousands of satellites. It’s designed to deliver high-speed internet service to anywhere on earth (just like satellite phones for voice communications).
Microsoft’s Azure Space , launched today (October 20, 2020), would help connect and deploy new services using swarms of low-orbit communications satellites to be built by SpaceX, and more traditional fleets of satellites circling the earth at higher altitudes. The Azure Space initiative is targeting commercial and government space businesses. It comes about three months after Amazon Web Services (AWS), disclosed its space-focused effort. Just a few weeks ago, Microsoft announced a new service called Azure Orbital to connect satellites directly to cloud resident data centers.
A new “Azure Modular Datacenter” is essentially a mobile unit about the size of a semi-trailer. Starlink’s global coverage helps make these Azure Modular Datacenters possible, as Microsoft says the product is designed “for customers who need cloud computing capabilities in hybrid or challenging environments, including remote areas.”
“The collaboration that we’re announcing today will allow us to work together to deliver new offerings for both the public and the private sector to deliver connectivity through Starlink for use on Azure,” SpaceX president and COO Gwynne Shotwell said in a video. “Where it makes sense, we will work with [Microsoft]: co-selling to our mutual customers, co-selling to new enterprise and future customers.”
To date, SpaceX has launched over 800 Starlink satellites – a fraction of the total needed for global coverage but enough to begin providing services in some regions, including in the northwest U.S. The company has an ongoing private beta test of the service, and is also working with organizations in rural regions of Washington state to deliver satellite internet service.
Some analysts have projected that the total revenue from space-related cloud services could total about $15 billion by the end of the decade, at least several times higher than current levels.
Competition in the cloud between Amazon AWS, the market leader, and No. 2 Microsoft Azure has been heating up in recent years. Amazon offers a service to connect its AWS cloud to satellites and is working on a competitor to Starlink called Kuiper – in addition to Bezos’ personal investment in his space rocket builder Blue Origin. The pandemic has intensified competition between AZURE and AWS as companies accelerate their shift to the cloud and make vendor choices that could last for years. At the same time, military and intelligence agencies are ramping up spending on a range of space projects.
Space is only the latest area where the two cloud giants are going head-to-head. In June, Amazon launched a dedicated business unit focused on securing space-related contracts. Amazon already has Maxar Technologies Inc. and Capella Space as customers, helping them manage data coming from satellites.
Microsoft’s goal is to create integrated, secure networks, linking various cloud, space and ground capabilities. The system, for instance, would accumulate and analyze huge volumes of data, supporting missions such as space-debris surveillance and missile warnings and helping to control the orbits of commercial satellites.
“The space community is growing rapidly, and innovation is lowering the barriers of access for public and private sector organizations. What used to solely be the bastion of governments, the innovation developed by private space companies has democratized access to space, and the use of space to create new scenarios and opportunities to meet the needs of both the public and private sector space has been powering the world for a long time,” wrote Microsoft Corp VP of Azure Global Tim Keane in a blog post. “We intend to make Azure the platform and ecosystem of choice for the mission needs of the space community,” Keane added.
In addition to working with SpaceX, formally known as Space Exploration Technologies Corp., Microsoft said it is in partnership with Luxembourg’s SES SA, which separately operates a network of larger satellites significantly farther from earth under the brand O3b. Microsoft executives declined to disclose the size of their anticipated investment, but the initiative targets some of the fastest-growing national-security endeavors in space, sometimes harnessing artificial intelligence.
SpaceX, which is in the process of deploying its Starlink project consisting of thousands of high-speed internet satellites intended to provide connectivity around the globe, makes a natural partner for Microsoft. A major reason is that Amazon founder Jeff Bezos is pursuing his own low-orbit satellite constellation. Jeff Bezos also owns Blue Origin, a rocket company competing with SpaceX.
Elon Musk has sparred with Bezos before. The SpaceX chief executive who also runs electric-vehicle maker Tesla Inc. this year called for a break up of Amazon after the retailer rejected a book about the coronavirus pandemic. Amazon later said it had taken the action in error.
Microsoft and Walmart Inc. struck a cloud-computing deal two years ago. And this year the software giant and FedEx Corp. struck a partnership. Months earlier, Amazon had temporarily blocked some of its vendors from using some FedEx services.
Amazon’s and Microsoft’s steps in space come as the U.S. Defense Department is moving rapidly to embrace such sprawling constellations of smaller spacecraft for communications, surveillance and other applications. Pentagon brass have said smaller, lighter and more maneuverable satellites are essential to protect U.S. assets from potential hostile actions in space.
Microsoft is “focused deeply on governments and defense,” said Tom Keane, a corporate vice president. The space effort, he said, provides an opportunity “to bring commercial technology and innovation to the military.”
Image Credit: Microsoft
SpaceX recently won a demonstration contract for a new generation of missile-warning satellites, which industry officials say could serve as the backbone for eventual Microsoft forays into that arena.
The U.S. national-security establishment also is shifting to greater cloud use. Microsoft last year beat out Amazon for a potential $10 billion cloud-computing contract for the Pentagon. Amazon has challenged the decision, which has since been affirmed by the Pentagon.