Amazon has filed documents with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to run wireless internet tests in rural Washington state. Based on the filings, the company appears to be seeking to perform live trials on ‘innovative communications capabilities and functionalities.’
Another aspect of the filings which raised interest was the inclusion of Neil Woodward as the head of the program. Mr. Woodward is a retired astronaut and joined Amazon in 2005. He is currently the Senior Manager of Prime Air – the company’s drone delivery service.
Given Mr. Woodward’s role, the test appears to be linked to a system which could tie together delivery drones in areas where cell coverage is spotty at best. This would benefit coverage not only in rural areas but also in large cities where signal interference from buildings is common.
The tests could also be used for a next generation wireless system which could be tied to Amazon products such as Echo virtual assistants and Kindle tablets.
The first tests are scheduled to take place on the campus of Amazon’s headquarters in Seattle and then will be expanded to cover the company’s customer service operations in Kennewick, Washington. This is about 215 miles southeast of Seattle, near the Oregon state border.
The plan is to install three fixed transmitters as well as several mobile units. The reason for the filing is that all transmission devices must comply with regulations by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) governing wireless communications.
In fact, the documents noted that ‘temporary base stations will typically transmit on average for only five minutes per hour per day per week on any specific channel or band.’ As such, the company is seeking to ensure the test would fall rules for experimental approval instead of requiring full-fledged licensing. This would limit testing to a 3-mile radius of each transmitter.
Amazon is not the only technology company testing different transmission standards. In recent years Facebook and Google have begun to develop technology for expanding internet coverage. These include tests for Google’s self-driving vehicles and Facebook’s plans to launch balloons.
With the filing, Amazon is inching closer to a commercial launch of an autonomous delivery system using drones. To that end, the company has set up development centers in Austria, Israel, the U.K., and in the U.S.
Current regulations by the FCC and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) have been identified as potential roadblocks to a commercial launch the company has received approval to test drones on a limited basis in August 2015.
Even if the company gains approval from the FCC, it is unlikely that commercial drone deliveries will move beyond the test stage for some time to come. However, the long, slow march toward making such deliveries a reality appears to be in motion and with it comes the potential to redefine home delivery in the U.S. and elsewhere.
Shares of Amazon end the week at $817.14 and are currently trading 52-week highs.