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Vodafone Partners with Amazon’s Project Kuiper to Expand 4G/5G Coverage in Europe and Africa

By Rachel Jewett | September 5, 2023
Amazon's Dave Limp and delayed. Margherita Della Valle with a Project Kuiper user terminal. Photo: Vodafone

Amazon’s Dave Limp and Vodafone’s Margherita Della Valle with a Project Kuiper user terminal. Photo: Vodafone

Amazon’s Project Kuiper landed a deal with multinational telco Vodafone to expand 4G and 5G services to Vodafone’s customers in Europe and Africa. 

The companies announced the deal Tuesday, with Vodafone pitching it as a way to bring high-speed broadband to unserved and underserved communities without the cost of traditional fiber build-out.  When Kuiper is operational, the companies plan to install Project Kuiper customer terminals alongside cellular towers, using Project’s Kuiper’s satellite links to connect from the towers back to the companies’ core networks. This process is known as cellular backhaul via satellite. 

The deal involves Vodafone subsidiary Vodacom, which covers 500 million people in South Africa, Tanzania, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Egypt, Mozambique, Lesotho, Kenya, and Ethiopia. 

“At Vodacom, our purpose is to connect for a better future, and we work every day to bring more people in Africa online,” said Shameel Joosub, CEO of Vodacom Group. “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.

Project Kuiper is Amazon’s Low-Earth Orbit (LEO) constellation in development to provide satellite broadband internet to bridge the digital divide — a future competitor with SpaceX Starlink and OneWeb. 

The companies will begin service when Amazon’s production satellites come online, and Vodafone and Vodacom will work with Amazon on beta testing with two upcoming prototype Kuiper satellites. Amazon expects to begin beta testing Project Kuiper services with select customers by the end of 2024, and to begin deploying production satellites in 2024. Amazon has confirmed its prototype satellites on an upcoming United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas 5 mission set for the fall. The satellites were previously booked for the first Vulcan launch, which has been delayed

Vodafone Group Chief Executive Margherita Della Valle said this partnership will support remote communities and their schools and businesses, emergency services, and disaster relief. She also said it will be complemented by Vodafone’s separate work on satellite direct-to-cell services. 

Vodafone is an investor in AST SpaceMobile and participated in satellite-to-cell tests with the company earlier this year — tests that demonstrated two-way voice calls to unmodified smartphones via satellite. Vodafone subsidiaries in Papua New Guinea and Ghana are also working with competing satellite-to-cell company Lynk. 

Project Kuiper and Vodafone also plan to explore additional enterprise-specific offerings for businesses like backup service for unexpected events and connecting remote infrastructure. 

Dave Limp, Amazon’s senior vice president for devices and services, pitched Kuiper as a solution that can provide connectivity to places that have been hard to reach. 

“Teaming with a leading international service provider like Vodafone allows us to make a bigger impact faster in closing the digital divide in Europe and Africa,” Limp said. Together we’ll explore how we can help our customers get the most value from expanded connectivity, particularly in areas like residential broadband, agriculture, education, healthcare, transportation, and financial services.”

Beyond Vodafone, Project Kuiper plans to work with other local and regional telcos to connect people in remote parts of the world, said Naveen Kachroo, Project Kuiper’s director of business development and product management.

“Project Kuiper’s satellite technology complements telecommunications companies’ ongoing efforts to connect the unconnected, and we plan to continue working with local and regional telecommunications operators to help them extend the reach of their networks,” Kachroo said. 

Project Kuiper is ramping up activity as it faces an FCC deadline to have half of the constellation launched by July 2026. The company has signed massive launch contracts, opened new manufacturing facilities, and unveiled user terminal designs. In July, Amazon announced a $120 million investment in a new satellite processing facility at Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, where satellites will be integrated ahead of launch.