Two sats, one customer: Japan's NTT signs up for Amazon's space internet

Take that, Elon

Amazon's Project Kuiper space internet project has gained a notable notch in its belt, with Japanese telecom company NTT signing up for the service.

NTT declared it plans to use Kuiper "to enhance communications availability and resiliency for Japanese customers" in the low Earth orbit (LEO) satellite broadband network's "first strategic collaboration" announced in Asia-Pacific.

The telco explained that although Japan is well served by terrestrial fiber and wireless connections, the country's many mountains and islands make it tricky to restore connectivity in the event of natural disasters and other emergencies.

Japan is also a place where several tectonic plates get together to rumble, making earthquakes and tsunamis a valid concern.

Mobile carrier and NTT subsidiary, NTT DoCoMo, plans to use Kuiper to put rural and remote parts of Japan on its telecom network while forgoing efforts to build out fiber and fixed wireless infrastructure.

"As a result of this collaboration, Japanese businesses will be able to use Project Kuiper connectivity to support a broad range of applications, including Internet of Things, predictive maintenance, fleet management, remote manufacturing, and more," claimed NTT, adding that this includes connectivity to Amazon Web Services (AWS) for running machine learning and AI applications.

Earlier this month, Amazon boasted that a pair of prototype Project Kuiper satellites achieved a 100 percent success rate during a mission that tested video streaming, two-way video calls and a little early Christmas e-commerce action. Telemetry, tracking, and control facilities all functioned as hoped.

Amazon asserts its standard Kuiper terminal can deliver speeds up to 400Mbit/sec at a production cost under than $400. Smaller terminals will reach 100Mbit/sec, and larger device are promised to achieve 1Gbit/sec.

However, the project does face a hurdle: scaling so it can actually provide that promised connectivity to the masses and customers like NTT. Internet service is not slated to begin until 578 of the 1600-plus planned Kuiper satellites are launched and working. So far, even the two prototype satellites have run behind schedule.

And before Project Kuiper goes thrusting hundreds more satellites into LEO, it plans more experiments to determine prototype durability after time spent in orbit.

The Amazon subsidiary expects to beta test connectivity services with select customers and partners – including NTT and Sky Perfect JSAT – beginning in the second half of 2024.

The NTT Group was ranked 109 in the 2023 Fortune 500. Its umbrella includes a host of subsidiaries that could also benefit from Kuiper connectivity – such as NTT Data, which provides cloud services but was not mentioned in the partnership announcement.

NTT DoCoMo is not the first telecom to jump aboard Project Kuiper. Vodafone announced in September it would work with the satellite broadband provider for 4G and 5G connectivity in Europe and Africa.

Meanwhile, SpaceX's Starlink claims US mobile provider T-Mobile among its customers – although whether it can provide the direct-to-cellular coverage it promised has been questioned.

Starlink has also inked deals this year with Spanish telecom operator Telefonica to provide broadband to rural and remote customers. ®

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