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Amazon's entry into the satellite internet market sets up another faceoff between Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk

Samantha Masunaga, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Business News

Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos already compete on satellite launch contracts for their respective rocket companies, SpaceX and Blue Origin.

Soon they will also face off in the potentially lucrative business of providing broadband internet via constellations of hundreds, or even thousands, of tiny satellites.

Last week, Bezos' Amazon.com Inc. became the latest company to join the race already populated by SpaceX and OneWeb, both of which have launched their first satellites. And those two companies, as well as others, have received approval from the Federal Communications Commission to use spectrum for their constellations.

But while Amazon is the latest to join an already crowded field, analysts say the company's deep pockets give it a good chance to edge out established competitors.

"The people who have got the most money and the best partners are going to be the ones that get to the end of this process," said Tim Farrar, president of Menlo Park satellite and telecommunications consulting firm TMF Associates. "Jeff Bezos has been willing to invest money in Blue Origin, at least, without any need for near-term return on that investment."

Amazon's initiative, known as Project Kuiper, centers on a constellation of as many as 3,236 satellites in low-Earth orbit, according to filings with the International Telecommunication Union. That United Nations agency allocates satellite orbits and global radio spectrum and develops technical standards to help connect networks around the world.

 

Amazon said in a statement that Project Kuiper was a "long-term project" that would serve "tens of millions of people who lack basic access to broadband internet."

That's the same thinking behind other small-satellite constellations under development by SpaceX, Canadian satellite operator Telesat and OneWeb which counts British billionaire Richard Branson's Virgin Group as an investor.

"I don't know that there's going to be just one company that's going to dominate," said Kristi Morgansen, professor and interim chair of the University of Washington's department of aeronautics and astronautics. "As we've seen with internet providers and other kinds of infrastructure, there's an array of opportunities."

Amazon could view its broadband service as a way to fully connect its end users to its home devices, many including the Alexa virtual assistant, or as a possible component of its envisioned drone delivery service, Farrar said. But there's still uncertainty about how this market will play out.

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