TAMPA, Fla. — Vodafone plans to test beta services from Amazon’s planned Project Kuiper broadband constellation next year to extend the reach of its cellular networks in Europe and Africa.

The companies said Sept. 5 they agreed on a partnership that would use Amazon’s envisioned network of 3,200 satellites in low Earth orbit to bring 4G and 5G connectivity to areas where it would be too challenging or expensive to deploy terrestrial networks.

Vodafone and Vodacom — the U.K.-based mobile giant’s majority-owned African subsidiary — said they could connect more rural and remote communities by using the Kuiper constellation to link widely dispersed cell towers.

However, the companies did not disclose details about any commercial arrangement.

An Amazon spokesperson said initial Project Kuiper service pilots would be available for Vodafone, Vodacom, and other enterprise customers by the end of 2024 after launching an unspecified number of satellites.

It is the second partnership Project Kuiper has announced with a telco following a similar strategic collaboration with Verizon, which said two years ago it was exploring ways to use the satellites to extend connectivity services across the United States.

Vodafone is one of Europe’s largest telcos and is either the biggest or second-biggest mobile operator in most of the 21 countries its companies directly operate in. Of these countries, 11 are in Europe and eight are in Africa through Vodacom.

The telco also has partnership agreements with local operators in 46 countries to extend its reach beyond the companies it owns.

Clock is ticking

Amazon said it is preparing to launch two prototype satellites over the coming months ahead of deploying production satellites in 2024 that would be built in-house.

KuiperSat-1 and KuiperSat-2 are slated to launch on one of United Launch Alliance’s remaining Atlas 5 rockets this fall, following delays with what was to be the debut flight of ULA’s Vulcan Centaur rocket earlier this year.

Amazon has spent billions to secure up to 92 launches for Project Kuiper, including nine Atlas 5 and 38 Vulcan rockets.

The other two rockets under contract — Arianespace’s Ariane 6 and Blue Origin’s New Glenn — are years behind schedule and a still unknown number of months from their maiden launches as Amazon races to meet its regulatory deployment deadlines. 

Half the constellation must be launched by July 2026 under Project Kuiper’s Federal Communications Commission license, and the other 1,618 satellites must be deployed before the end of 2029.

Blue Origin is owned by Amazon’s billionaire founder Jeff Bezos and its Project Kuiper launch contract recently became the subject of a lawsuit filed by the Cleveland Bakers and Teamsters Pension Fund, an Amazon shareholder.

The plaintiffs argue that Amazon’s management acted in bad faith by awarding the bulk of the Kuiper launches to three unproven rockets without considering SpaceX despite its strong record, lower prices, and unmatched capacity.

Jason Rainbow writes about satellite telecom, space finance and commercial markets for SpaceNews. He has spent more than a decade covering the global space industry as a business journalist. Previously, he was Group Editor-in-Chief for Finance Information...