Access to broadband internet connectivity is becoming an essential part of daily life, but millions of people in America and around the world have no internet access.
A big hurdle for achieving internet coverage in remote and rural areas is the massive investment needed to extend the existing infrastructure to reach remote locations. That’s why Amazon is creating a satellite network capable of providing global coverage without laying a single cable.
Project Kuiper is its plan to launch thousands of satellites capable of delivering internet speeds of up to 1 Gbps. But will it be a viable alternative to regular cable internet companies like Spectrum?
Let’s take a look at Amazon’s Kuiper and Spectrum to see how they compare.
Amazon’s Kuiper vs. Spectrum: Side-by-Side Comparison
|What is it?||Proposed satellite broadband internet service provider (ISP)||Cable and fiber optic broadband internet service provider (ISP)|
|Primary Use||Broadband internet access||Broadband internet access|
|Initial Release||Under development||2016|
|Influential Developers||Rajeev Badyal (President of Project Kuiper)|
Dave Limp (Senior Vice President of Amazon Devices and Services)
United Launch Alliance
Jarrett Jones (Blue Origin)
|Barry Babcock (founder)|
Jerald Kent (founder)
Howard Wood (founder)
|Max Uplink Speed||Unknown||35 Mbps|
|Max DownloadSpeed||1 Gbps (proposed)||1 Gbps|
|Monthly Subscription||Unknown||Between $49.99 and $89.99 (starting)|
|Additional Fees||Unknown||Installation fee of $59.99|
|Equipment Provided||$400 for terminal (proposed)||Modems, routers, Wi-Fi mesh|
|Locations Available||Worldwide||48 states in the U.S.|
What is Amazon Kuiper?
Amazon Kuiper is the e-commerce and tech giant’s $10 billion venture into the world of satellite internet.
Kuiper Systems LLC was established in 2019 as a subsidiary that is wholly concerned with the objective of deploying the large broadband satellite internet constellation necessary to support this commercial service with internet speeds of up to 1 Gbps.
This project, led by tech industry veteran, Rajeev Badyal, aims to massively expand global broadband internet coverage by launching a constellation of over 3,000 Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellites. The constellation will form the basis of an internet network that can deliver high-speed, low-latency internet wirelessly and directly to any location on Earth.
This venture is very similar, if not identical, to Elon Musk’s Starlink satellite network, which currently has several thousand satellites in LEO. Both companies are keen to emphasize the benefits satellite internet could have in closing the digital divide and providing connectivity to remote communities that lack the infrastructure for fiber, cable, or even DSL.
Compact, Lightweight, and Low-Cost Terminals
To receive broadband satellite internet, customers will receive low-cost customer terminals that can access the satellite network. The setup for Kuiper broadband internet would include an outdoor satellite antenna called a customer terminal varying in size between 7 inches for the home terminal and 19 inches by 30 inches for the enterprise terminal. Amazon intends to utilize its expansive AWS-powered telecommunications infrastructure to distribute its broadband internet connectivity via a global network of base stations.
Novel LEO Satellite Design
So far, Amazon has taken steps to develop a proprietary broadcast satellite design and plans to fabricate over 3,236 satellites. The prototypes are already in development and are being tested. Amazon, like Starlink, has the challenge of ensuring that the constellations of satellites will not disrupt the study of space through astronomy or cause environmental damage through the creation of space debris when the satellites are decommissioned.
Commercial Partners for Satellite Launches in Place
Amazon expects to deploy its satellites using up to 92 individual rocket launches, which it is coordinating with space companies that include Blue Origin, Arianespace, and United Launch Alliance. If everything moves forward, Project Kuiper will be one of the largest space projects in history, with a massive economic boost through the jobs and business it generates.
What is Spectrum Internet?
Spectrum is one of America’s biggest home broadband internet, cable, and PayTV companies. It is a subsidiary of the Connecticut company, Charter Communications. Spectrum owes its large market share of over 32 million customers in 48 states to its ownership of Time Warner and Brighthouse, which it acquired in 2016.
The company started as the Time Warner Cable RoadRunner service in 1995. Before becoming Spectrum Internet in 2016 it was known as Time Warner Cable Internet. Currently, the company offers cable, DSL, and fiber internet. They do not provide satellite internet and have no intention to do so.
Basic, Terrestrial Home Broadband
Spectrum offers simple internet-only tiered price plans. Prices vary according to location but are usually between $49.99 for a 300 Mbps connection and $89.99 for a 940 Mbps connection.
Initial prices are discounted for the first 12 months and rise immediately after. Internet connectivity is free from contracts, data caps, and throttling. Customers pay an installation fee and are provided with a Wi-Fi router inclusive of their monthly charge.
Spectrum Internet is popular because of its vast coverage, simple inclusive price plans, and fast speeds. It does have limitations in serving remote and rural areas where cable internet infrastructure is minimal.
Amazon’s Kuiper vs. Spectrum: How Do They Compare?
Project Kuiper and Spectrum Internet could not be more different. Firstly, Amazon’s venture is currently in development, while Spectrum is a multi-billion dollar established telecommunications company. However, that doesn’t mean Kuiper’s potential to transform how people get online should be underestimated.
Let’s take a closer look at how these two ISPs compare.
This is the most important difference between the two companies and how they operate. Spectrum provides a conventional home broadband service that is delivered to customers via a cable, fiber, or DSL connection. It is fixed, wired, and very much terrestrial.
Amazon intends to deliver internet connectivity through bidirectional communications with the constellation of satellites it intends to send into orbit. The satellites will orbit at a low enough level for the signals they send and receive to not be massively weakened by the atmospheric layers of the Earth. Customers will be equipped with terminals that receive and send data for internet access via the satellites.
Spectrum covers almost every metropolitan area in the United States and many rural areas too. However, because it delivers fixed wired broadband internet, there are many remote and inaccessible places that it simply is not profitable to serve.
For a long time, these areas have been on the wrong side of the digital divide. However remote locations all over the world could be served instantly by Amazon’s Kuiper. This is because there is no wired infrastructure needed for satellite internet connectivity. All that customers and businesses would require is a portable satellite antenna, called a terminal, that sends and receives internet data wirelessly via the satellites.
When it comes to speed, the service provided by Kuiper and Spectrum are likely to be comparable. Spectrum currently offers broadband internet at speeds between 300 Mbps and 1 Gbps. The team at Project Kuiper has suggested that its internet speeds will vary between 100 Mbps and 1 Gbps. To put things in perspective, 100 Mbps is fast enough to enjoy Netflix buffer-free.
Spectrum customers receive a modem and home Wi-Fi equipment to receive and distribute internet connectivity throughout a property. Routers require a wired Ethernet connection but distribute the internet connectivity wirelessly using Wi-Fi (802.11).
Kuiper’s simple satellite terminals come in three sizes, depending on the speed of internet connectivity provided. In addition to the terminals which send and receive the satellite signal, customers would need to have a router for home and business Wi-Fi internet connectivity. Amazon has not yet stated if it is going to provide a modem or router as part of its package.
Spectrum Internet has a $59.99 installation fee. The monthly charge includes the hire of Wi-Fi equipment. Amazon’s Kuiper terminal currently costs $400 to build. This is unlikely to represent the upfront costs, but Starlink, a comparable company, currently has a setup fee of $599 for its satellite base station.
So far, Amazon hasn’t released any information on the pricing of its satellite internet service. It appears that the intention is that it will be low-cost but, of course, there is the obligation to recoup the $10 billion that Amazon has invested in the project so far. For comparison, Starlink’s satellite internet is currently $135 per month.
Spectrum is known for its clear and consistent broadband internet pricing, with price plans between $49 and $89 per month. Spectrum has no contracts, no data caps, and no throttling.
Amazon’s Kuiper vs. Spectrum: 5 Must-Know Facts
- Blue Origin, Kuiper’s space partner, is an aerospace and defense company founded and owned by Amazon’s Jeff Bezos.
- The United States Federal Communications Commission (FCC) granted Amazon’s Project Kuiper a license to operate its satellites in July 2020.
- The Kuiper customer terminals use a proprietary baseband cheap that is called the Prometheus chip. It provides processing power that is comparable to a 5G modem chip. Amazon intends to use these custom chips to perform critical tasks throughout the Kupier network.
- In early April 2023, Spectrum Internet suffered a massive outage in the Kansas City area due to fiber optic cables being vandalized. Two people were arrested for the crime. Over 40,000 households were without broadband internet connectivity which has since been restored.
- In addition to broadband internet, Spectrum also provides email, network security, and free access to over 500,000 Wi-Fi hotspots nationwide.
In the U.S, Amazon Kuiper will be entering a mature market with big companies like Spectrum, dominating the market with reliable fixed broadband that customers are familiar with. Satellite internet from Kuiper certainly has benefits for remote and inaccessible locations, but it is unclear how competitive it will be in regions with the telecommunications infrastructure for fiber, cable, or DSL broadband.
The image featured at the top of this post is ©Alexander Supertramp/Shutterstock.com.