Vodacom in deal with Starlink rival Project Kuiper

Shameel Joosub

Vodacom Group plans to offer access to Project Kuiper, the Amazon.com-owned low-Earth orbit satellite communications provider and a direct competitor of SpaceX’s Starlink.

Vodacom and its parent, the UK-headquartered Vodafone Group, said on Tuesday that the companies will use Project Kuiper’s satellites to extend the reach of their 4G and 5G networks in Africa and Europe. They plan to participate in beta testing of Project Kuiper in 2024 through a “strategic collaboration”.

“Vodafone and Vodacom plan to use Project Kuiper’s high-bandwidth, low-latency satellite network to bring the benefits of 4G/5G connectivity to areas that may otherwise be challenging and prohibitively expensive to serve via traditional fibre or microwave solutions,” they said in a statement.

Vodacom had been working with Loon, a now-abandoned plan by Google to offer internet access via high-altitude balloons.

“Project Kuiper will connect geographically dispersed cellular antennas back to the companies’ core telecoms networks. This means Vodafone and Vodacom will be able offer 4G/5G services in more locations without the time and expense of building out fibre-based or fixed-wireless links back to the core networks,” they added.

The telecoms operators are also exploring enterprise-specific offerings to provide businesses with comprehensive global connectivity solutions, such as backup service for unexpected events and extending connectivity to remote infrastructure.

“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. These connections will be complemented further through our own work on direct-to-smartphone satellite services,” said Vodafone Group CEO Margherita Della Valle in the statement.

A promotional video about Project Kuiper:

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Vodacom Group CEO Shameel Joosub added: “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.”

Read: Amazon targets 2024 for launch of Project Kuiper

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.

Starlink, meanwhile, remains unavailable in South Africa, possibly due to a standoff over empowerment requirements for licensing by communications regulator Icasa.

One of the requirements for licence approval is that the company must be 30% owned by historically disadvantaged groups. Owned by Elon Musk’s SpaceX, Musk has not applied for the necessary licences to operate here.  – © 2023 NewsCentral Media

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Source: techcentral.co.za