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Amazon faces satellite broadband setback as regulator weighs new rules

·2 min read
Jeff Bezos, Amazon's founder
Jeff Bezos, Amazon's founder

Amazon has been dealt a setback to its plans to use a constellation of internet satellites to beam broadband to Britain after Ofcom said it would raise the bar for licence applications.

The regulator said it would require operators such as Amazon, OneWeb and Elon Musk’s Starlink to demonstrate that their services will not interfere with existing satellite broadband networks when they apply for new licences.

The proposals, which come amid concerns that the satellite internet providers will interfere with each others’ signals, are designed to ensure competition among the companies.

However, because Starlink and state-backed OneWeb have already secured licences from Ofcom, the proposals would create an extra hurdle for Amazon to join them.

The online giant’s $10bn (£7bn) “Project Kuiper” system, which will use 3,236 satellites, promises to deliver fast and cheap broadband to rural areas underserved by fixed internet connections.

However, the project has been dealt regulatory setbacks and Amazon is yet to launch its first satellites into space.

Ofcom also said it planned to bring the “Ka” spectrum band that Project Kuiper plans to use under the same rules as the “Ku” band that OneWeb and Starlink will deploy.

It is the latest twist in battle between two of the world's richest men to dominate the satellite broadband market.

Mr Musk and Mr Bezos rivalry descended into a public spat in January when Amazon argued that Starlink's plans to lower the orbit of around 2,800 satellites to improve broadband speeds would interfere with its Kuiper project.

Mr Musk hit back on Twitter at the time, 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."

Ministers are hoping the satellite broadband can support attempts to shore up the nation's connectivity alongside plans to upgrade 85pc of the UK to gigabit speeds by 2025.