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Vodafone and Amazon to extend connectivity in Africa and Europe through Project Kuiper

Europe-based operator and its African partner plan to use Amazon’s low-Earth orbit satellite constellation to extend the reach of their 4G/5G networks with beta testing slated for 2024

As competition in the satellite broadband market seems to get more intense by the day, the reach of the connected world grows and grows, and looking to extend the reach of their 4G and 5G services to more customers in Europe and Africa, Vodafone and Project Kuiper, Amazon’s low-Earth orbit satellite (LEO) communications initiative, have closed a strategic collaboration through which Vodafone and its minority-owned African company Vodacom plan to use the space-based network.

Project Kuiper is designed to increase global broadband access through a constellation of 3,236 satellites in LEO. Its mission is to bring fast, affordable broadband to unserved and underserved communities around the world. It aims to help close the digital divide by delivering fast, affordable broadband to a wide range of customers, including consumers, businesses, government agencies and other organisations operating in places without reliable connectivity.

Amazon’s research and development on Project Kuiper began in 2018. In July 2020, US comms regulator the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) granted Amazon a licence to deploy and operate Project Kuiper satellites, requiring the company to deploy and operate at least half of its satellite constellation by July 2026. It is preparing to launch its first two prototype satellites by the end of 2023 and expects to provide service to the earliest Project Kuiper customers by the end of 2024.

As part of the collaboration, Amazon plans to partner with Vodafone to roll out Project Kuiper’s high-speed broadband services to unserved and underserved communities around the world.

Given Project Kuiper can connect geographically dispersed cellular antennas back to their core telecoms networks, Vodafone and Vodacom plan to use Project Kuiper’s network to bring the benefits of 4G and 5G connectivity to areas that may be challenging and prohibitively expensive to serve via traditional fibre or microwave solutions. Vodafone and Vodacom said this means they will be able offer 4G and 5G services in more locations without the time and expense of building out fibre-based or fixed wireless links back to the core networks.

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

Vodafone, Vodacom and Project Kuiper will begin deploying services in Africa and Europe as Amazon’s production satellites come online. Amazon is preparing to test two prototype satellites in the coming months before starting to deploy production satellites in 2024. Amazon expects to begin beta testing Project Kuiper services with select customers by the end of 2024, and Vodafone and Vodacom plan to participate in that testing through this collaboration.

“Vodafone’s work with Project Kuiper will provide mobile connectivity to many of the estimated 40% of the global population without internet access, supporting remote communities, their schools and businesses, the emergency services and disaster relief,” remarked Vodafone Group chief executive Margherita Della Valle. “These connections will be complemented further through our own work on direct-to-smartphone satellite services.”

Dave Limp, Amazon’s senior vice-president for devices and services, added: “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.

“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.”

Shameel Joosub, CEO of Vodacom Group, said: “At Vodacom, our purpose is to connect for a better future, and we work every day to bring more people in Africa online. 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.” 

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