After almost 30 years in IFE, this has to be one of the most exciting and important Hot Topics that we have produced for our IFExpress readers. The subject is a radically new antenna (mostly) but before you delete this email and log on to Facebook hear us out. Kymeta is the Redmond, WA startup that was voted by MIT’s Technology Review as one of 2013’s Most Disruptive (technology) Companies. Our subject is airborne satellite Ka-band communication and the disruptive technology is based around something called metamaterial and is the disruptive heart of this revolutionary antenna concept. We should really say “preproduction” concept and the Kymeta organization (42 team members strong) is busily preparing to get you your data faster, cheaper and a whole lot easier than with anything flying today. In a nutshell, gone will be the high power transmitters, power eating gimbals, large radomes, heavy antennas, aircraft installation downtime – all replaced with a device more the size of a two inch thick bathmat. With this discovery setup, we wanted to tell our readers about an interview we had with Kymeta executives.

The Kymeta website is a good place for you to start. We will get to the technology soon enough but it is interesting to first look at their marketing strategy as it surprised us a bit. The interview began with Vern Fotheringham, CEO and Chairman of Kymeta stating, “No moving parts is our mantra”, describing the inner workings of their incredible satcom antenna. Before we covered the inner workings Mr. Fotheringham outlined the outer workings (sales strategy) and it makes a lot of sense. He noted that since the airborne product is two years away, they are concentrating on markets not presently saturated with Ku-band attention like commercial airline aircraft, but rather, they are looking toward sales and installations aboard business jets and regional airlines. The issue here is product sales leverage. Because of the small antenna footprint, smaller aircraft will see improvements in weight, efficiencies in drag and fuel burn, higher data rates at a reduced cost per bit and basically a new plateau of data connectivity performance. The first announcement of a working partner is Inmarsat and we expect to see a lot more familiar names later as the Kymeta product gets closer to finalization. Also we should note that presently the company does not have end-to-end, FAA certification, product goals, but rather they are sensibly seeking to become an OEM supplier of the sophisticated metamaterial antenna modules that will make devices “Powered by Kymeta” an industry best seller.

Because the beam is electronically steered there is no need for mechanical gimbals to tilt or rotate the antenna aperture. Think of it as a pencil shaped beam anchored to a plate on the top of an airplane and pointing in all directions to geosynchronous satellites. Since the beam is electronically steered there is no need for keeping the platform steady or moving an array to point at a specific satellite. We also asked about the resultant beam-width, knowing that airborne microwave systems often have overlapping challenges in talking to satellites that are separated by a few degrees.

“Many aeronautical terminals have difficulty meeting regulatory requirements when they are operated near the equator because of the skew of their highly anisotropic beam,” noted Dr. Nathan Kundtz, Kymeta founder and chief technology officer, “One of our goals is to mitigate this problem through the use of a flat panel with a much larger effective aperture size, allowing us to meet regulatory masks without the use of spreading techniques, which are cumbersome on satellite resources.”

We don’t expect you to take our view of the importance of the above developments, so we asked engineering installation expert, John Courtright, (SIE Inc.) who has been involved with well over 500 Ku-band Satcom system/antenna installs on airlines like JetBlue, Southwest, and others. John told IFExpress that he first heard of the new development at a recent NBAA: “The Kymeta flat-panel metamaterial antenna is “transformative” from an aircraft system integration point of view. Firstly, it provides a lower drag coefficient with a design that essentially conforms to the aircraft, the drag coefficient goes down precipitously in that its 2 cm profile beats the 15-to-20 cm profile of most Ku-band and Ka-band radome installations. Another factor is lower maintenance cost due to longer inspection cycles being required – and yes, DTA (Damage Tolerance Analysis) will still need to be performed but the fuselage penetration required for the Kymeta design concept is much, much smaller than an electro-mechanically steered antenna. A lighter installation means better fuel-burn, which translates to lower operating costs. Also, a conformal antenna means more installation location options – this is particularly important because upper fuselage “real-estate” may be scarce, particularly on VIP and corporate jets. It also means that more aircraft can become AES (Airborne Earth Stations – this is the term for a satcom equipped aircraft to the satcom folks). Large radomes don’t work well on smaller business jets. Also, if I am not mistaken, I believe their antenna concept has a shared aperture design that means it could operate across many satcom bands and it has the potential to be frequency configurable. With all the aforementioned features and benefits, the Kymeta antenna should enable us to devote our efforts to applications development that are now severely limited by current aircraft satcom interoperability.”

OK, readers, let’s review: 1) There is a new Ka-band antenna technology on the horizon that looks to radically change the design, installation and performance of satellite communication technology. 2) The company, Kymeta, is staffed with impressive industry professionals. 3) Kymeta has broad coverage in this area with more than 107 patent assets that pertain to the aforementioned antenna. 4) The company has startup funding of $12 M, –as well an agreement with Inmarsat to develop an antenna for the aviation market. 5) During this period, Kymeta is seeking to become an OEM provider of antenna modules in the aeronautical industry and even a retail device for end users. 6) By seeking industry ventures and acting as an OEM antenna module provider, Kymeta will quite probably exceed their development goals by a long shot. Stay Tuned!

For more information contact at Kymeta.

Interesting Links:

– Aviation Broadband Solution Ultra Low-Profile, Light-Weight Antenna to Enable Global, High-Speed Broadband Connectivity for the Wider Business Aviation Market

London, UK and Redmond, WA | March 6, 2013– Inmarsat (LSE: ISAT.L), the leading provider of global mobile satellite communications services and Kymeta, the company that designs and commercializes innovative metamaterials-based antennas for satellite communications, have signed an agreement to develop a revolutionary satellite antenna – enabling business jets of any size to access high-speed broadband connectivity globally through Inmarsat’s industry transforming Global Xpress (GX) service. The advanced and proprietary Kymeta Aero Antenna will only be available to GX users and opens up new opportunities for the two companies in the rapidly expanding business aviation market.

The Kymeta Aero Antenna will be developed as a light-weight, flat-panel device, and will deliver a new level of broadband speeds, data rates and bandwidth not previously enjoyed by business jet customers, which will be akin to the service they receive at home or in the office.

Leo Mondale, Managing Director of Inmarsat Global Xpress, explained: “Over the coming 10 years, some 10,000 new business jets are forecast to enter service. In this changing world, where enhancing the productivity and effectiveness of the business executive is paramount, the need to offer constant connectivity is non-negotiable. It is this absolute requirement to keep executives connected, wherever they are, that is driving demand for solutions which support smaller aircraft. Our partnership with satellite technology specialist, Kymeta, will make business jet travel an even smarter and more efficient option for executives.”

“Our technology for flat-panel, beam-forming antennas will enable a number of new markets and a new generation of customers to benefit from lower cost, high-speed satellite Internet connectivity anywhere in the world,” said Vern Fotheringham, CEO of Kymeta. “We are excited to reach this milestone and engage with Inmarsat to bring next-generation broadband services into the global business aviation market.”

Jack Jacobs, vice president of marketing and product management at Honeywell said: “Honeywell prides itself on advanced technology and innovation and is pleased to support this research endeavour. We are continuously looking to help deliver the most efficient and affordable connectivity products to the industry.” This complements the landmark agreement between Inmarsat and Honeywell announced in April 2012 for GX Aviation Terminals.

The agreement with Kymeta highlights Inmarsat’s continuing commitment to driving technological innovation on behalf of its partners and their aviation customers, and supports the company’s billion-dollar-plus infrastructure investment in its new GX constellation. For Kymeta, the deal opens up major opportunities to link its advanced antennas with the world’s first global Ka-band network.

Kymeta’s GX-capable antenna will be significantly lighter and smaller than previous satellite antennas. The device is so small and streamlined that it can be fitted to much smaller aircraft than was previously possible.

The antenna will electronically steer the antenna beam to Inmarsat’s GX satellites without requiring power-consuming phase shifters or mechanically moving parts, drastically reducing the overall cost and power consumption of the equipment.