Leave it to Amazon to explore something beyond mere cellular networks to get its devices online.
Earlier this year, Amazon held tests with new wireless network technology using spectrum from Globalstar, a company best known for its satellite phone and data services, reports Bloomberg. The tests were held in Cupertino, Calif., around Amazon’s Lab126 research facility, which is tasked with experimenting with new technologies (many of which never see the light of day).
Judging from the little information we have, it sounds like Amazon is looking for an alternative to LTE 4G and 3G cellular networks with more range flexibility than Wi-Fi. Globalstar is currently trying to get 80 percent of its spectrum approved for its Terrestrial Low Power Service (TLPS), which would offer speeds faster than Wi-Fi with much wider coverage ranges and would be accessible by most modern Wi-Fi enabled devices with a firmware upgrade.
Basically, with TLPS you’ll have a better Wi-Fi experience than you do on public hotspots. When it comes to Amazon’s devices, the company could offer extremely cheap (perhaps even free) data access without the need for expensive cellular radios and service. Amazon currently offers its Kindle HD tablet with 4G LTE connectivity for $399 (compared to the $269 Wi-Fi only version), and you also need to subscribe to an AT&T data plan to access 4G. (Amazon originally offered some discounts towards 4G data service when the Kindle Fire HD launched, but that offer has since ended.)
To a certain degree, TLPS also seems reminiscent of the Whispernet service Amazon launched with the original Kindle. That service originally used Sprint’s network (now it’s on AT&T’s) and was available to Kindle owners without a subscription fee — they just paid slightly more for the device — to download books. I wouldn’t be surprised if Amazon eventually wants to offer something similar for its more data-hungry tablets.
And, of course, TLPS could also be useful for the rumored phone Amazon is working on, something I’ve been arguing for the past year. Beyond Amazon’s own devices, the company could potentially offer a TLPS service that any mobile device can connect to.
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