Amazon Seeks Government Approval For Secret Wireless Tests in Public

This week Amazon disclosed in government filings that it is preparing to test experimental technology in public spaces. This wireless communication technology extends to mobile devices as well as fixed base stations.  The tests are to take place in rural Washington and Seattle, according to the filings.

The documents, filed on Wednesday with the Federal Communications Commission, state that the tests would include “low-power, temporary fixed-base transmitters and associated mobile units indoors at and near its company facilities in Seattle, Washington.” The documents indicate that there would be three fixed transmitters and 10 mobile units at each location.

Testing would start indoors, at Amazon’s headquarters in Seattle, Washington. They would eventually expand outward, around the Kennewick area 220 miles away, close to Amazon’s customer service facility. The documents state that the large radius indicated for the Kennweick location is for convenience, “to provide it flexibility to select a location within that area to meet its criteria for adequately evaluating the functionality and reliability of prototype equipment.”

While the filings are not specific as to the exact nature of the tests, there are clues that point to a new technology or wireless service. The filings note that the project involves prototypes of a nature that are designed to help “innovative communications capabilities and functionalities.” The company stated that it would find and improve any and all devices that do not meet FCC regulations.

The main contact on the filings is Neil Woodward, a retired NASA astronaut. Woodward joined Amazon in 2008, and is currently a senior manager in the Prime Air division. According to his LinkedIn profile, he is charged with overseeing Amazon’s drone delivery. Amazon won approval to test delivery drones in the US in March 2015.

The fact that Woodward is the main contact could suggest a drone component to the testing, as some kind of communication system to control delivery drones. However, this does not rule out a wireless service intended to work with Amazon Kindle tablets, Echo home speakers, or other mobile handsets.

For now, testing is limited to Amazon employees.

Originally published on Biznob and Rush Hour Daily on Jan 15, 2017.

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