Amazon has acquired a team of employees from Facebook focused on delivering internet connectivity from low Earth orbit satellites, The Information reports. Amazon paid Facebook an undisclosed sum as part of the acquisition, which saw more than a dozen Los Angeles-based employees switch companies in April to work on Project Kuiper. A Facebook spokesperson confirmed the news to The Information.
The move brings an end to Facebook’s efforts to deliver internet connectivity to remote areas via its own satellites. When it confirmed the initiative in 2018 the company said that it believed the technology would make it possible “to bring broadband connectivity to rural regions where internet connectivity is lacking or non-existent.” Facebook had previously attempted to use internet drones to achieve similar ends, before shutting down that project in 2018.
Meanwhile, Amazon’s ambitions to provide internet via satellite emerged in 2019. The company has said it expects to invest $10 billion to launch 3,236 satellites into low-earth orbit by 2029 with a similar aim of providing internet to “unserved and underserved communities around the world.” The company gained FCC approval to operate the network last year, and will launch half its satellites by 2026. The Information reports that Amazon is building a lab in Redmond, WA, and that it currently has around 500 employees working on its satellite internet project.
Late last year, Amazon revealed the design of the antennas its customers will eventually use to receive internet from its satellite internet service. However, the company is yet to launch any of its satellites into space. Back in April Amazon confirmed it had signed an agreement with rocket operator United Launch Alliance (ULA) for nine launches, but it did not provide a timeline for when these launches would occur, CNBC reported at the time.
Amazon is one of a handful of tech companies attempting to use satellites to offer internet connectivity in parts of the world where it would be prohibitively expensive to install fixed infrastructure. SpaceX is perhaps the most well known, and eventually plans to launch nearly 12,000 satellites into orbit. It’s already offering the Starlink service as a beta to a limited number of users, although performance from the roughly 1,3000 satellites already in orbit has been inconsistent so far. OneWeb is another company making investments in the area, but ran into financial difficulties last year when it was forced to file for bankruptcy protection.