Amazon and Verizon announced a partnership today to expand the wireless carrier’s 4G and 5G networks via Project Kuiper, Amazon’s satellite-internet subsidiary. It’s a mutually beneficial move. If successful, it could allow Jeff Bezos to challenge Elon Musk’s rival (and so far, more successful) Starlink system—while expanding America’s rural broadband access for Verizon, whose long-term goals are decidedly more terrestrial and less sci-fi villainy than either Bezos’s or Musk’s. The collaboration will mean Verizon can rely on Amazon’s expensive satellites instead of having to lay costly fiber cables to achieve the same effect.
According to Amazon, Project Kuiper’s plan is to launch 3,200 satellites into low-Earth orbit to improve internet access in underserved areas. Named for a belt of frozen gases just beyond Neptune, Amazon’s outfit was probably seen by both sides as an ideal match for Verizon’s very large current infrastructure. The two companies say that together they’ll be able to “explore joint connectivity solutions for domestic and global enterprises across agriculture, energy, manufacturing, education, emergency response, transportation, and other industries.”
Bezos has committed $10 billion to Project Kuiper, and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has green-lighted the launch of its satellites. But so far, it’s yet to launch a single one—circumstances that have not improved the second-richest person’s standing vis-à-vis his wealthier arch nemesis. SpaceX already has nearly 2,000 satellites in orbit, with plans to eventually deliver over another 40,000 more—enough to provide internet to the entire planet. (Probably worst of all for Bezos, there are now three separate fansites that allow users to track Starlink satellites across the sky.)
Unsurprisingly, SpaceX and Amazon’s battle for low-Earth-orbit supremacy has also spread to the FCC. Earlier this year, after Project Kuiper filed a challenge to a SpaceX request to reposition some satellites at a lower altitude, Musk lashed out on Twitter, saying: “It does not serve the public to hamstring Starlink today for an Amazon satellite system that is at best several years away from operation.”
Amazon responded that “the facts are simple,” then accused SpaceX of redesigning its system to intentionally place satellites in Project Kuiper’s way, adding: “It is clearly in SpaceX’s interest to smother competition in the cradle if they can, but it is certainly not in the public’s interest.” The Amazon-Verizon partnership will heap more figurative rocket fuel on this fire.