“The selection process was a long, arduous, tough one, that was many days of popping the hood and seeing what’s underneath,” Harry O’Hanley, ABL’s chief executive, said in an interview. “I’d say that they went as deep, or deeper, as we’ve ever seen a company go.”
The pair of Amazon prototype satellites will test internet connections between space and the company’s flat, square antennas for consumers on the ground for the first time in Amazon’s Kuiper program. Regions for the test include parts of South America, the Asia-Pacific region and Central Texas. Past experiments involved flying drones with satellite hardware over antennas on the ground, and connecting ground antennas to other companies’ satellites already in space, drawing internet speeds fast enough to stream high-definition video.
Like other parts of Amazon’s device business, employees working on Kuiper face pressure to keep costs down as they develop a final version of the company’s consumer antenna. The company is considering a range of pricing options, from charging customers for the antenna and all the wires that come with it, to an “extreme” case in which it gives the antenna to customers for free, Mr. Badyal said.
“We’re hyper-focused on getting the cost down so the total cost of ownership for customers is low,” he said, adding that engineers have updated the antenna design since Amazon revealed it last year. “When you build satellites, you don’t necessarily count pennies, but when you build a customer terminal, we are counting pennies and sub pennies.”
The penny-counting comes from the playbook of its devices unit, where Amazon has experience producing consumer electronics like Alexa smart speakers and Fire sticks for streaming TV.
At a conference last month, Andy Jassy, Amazon’s chief executive, cited the Kuiper project as an example of the company’s efforts to innovate even as it has grown so large. He said Amazon needed some “blind faith” that it could figure out the complex new technology. But he added: “You’ve got to make sure in the way that you’re thinking about operating it, and what the customer experience is going to be, that customers will adopt it and find it easy enough and attractive to use.”