Gates-backed Kymeta unveils next-gen satellite antenna for hybrid connectivity

Kymeta u8 antenna
Kymetra’s u8 flat-panel antenna is tailor-made for use with satellite as well as cellular connectivity services. (Kymeta Photo)

Kymeta Corp., one of the high-tech ventures backed by Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, has paired its next-generation satellite antenna with a new kind of hybrid connectivity service — reaching the next level in its quest to make buying satellite-based telecommunications as easy as buying cell service.

Bill Marks, Kymeta’s chief strategy officer, said the new combination of hardware and software builds on Kymeta’s current service offerings, which hit the market two years ago.

“When you start to try to penetrate markets that aren’t used to buying satellite services, especially mobility in the platforms that we’re on, the customers want you to provide something as simple as what they’re used to when they buy handsets and cellular plans,” he told GeekWire.

The typical model involves buying the hardware, and then navigating your way through a patchwork of service plans.

“It’s very difficult to say, ‘Hey, buy this satellite antenna … Now, good luck, go find your own capacity,’ ” Marks said. “People aren’t used to that, and they don’t know how to do it.”

To streamline the process, Redmond, Wash.-based Kymeta is gearing up to offer all-inclusive packages that combine its next-generation u8 antenna with a smorgasbord of Ku-band satellite connectivity and cellular service. Kymeta Connect packages will be priced on a per-gigabyte basis, just like cell service. Subscription rates start at $999 per month for 1 gigabyte of data.

“For the satellite industry, that is pretty earth-shattering,” Marks said.

Kymeta plans to add to its offerings as new satellite constellations begin beaming broadband services from low Earth orbit. Those services should extend connectivity to virtually every place on the planet.

“If you buy our u8 product, you can use it anywhere in the world at any frequency that Ku-band operates, seamlessly,” Marks said. “That means that you can roam around the world seamlessly as well, whereas the u7 didn’t really allow for global roaming.”

Kymeta takes advantage of metamaterials technology to “steer” its antennas electronically, without any moving parts. Previous versions of Kymeta’s flat-panel antennas looked like stop signs. The u8 antenna has been redesigned to have softer corners — and sharper electronics.

“We continually innovate the science around metamaterials,” Marks said. “What that means for the u8 is that we can scan and see satellites lower on the horizon than we used to, with higher performance. It’s much more practical for mobile applications, because you can’t predict where the antenna is going to be.”

The u8 is also designed to perform better than the u7 in extreme environments, ranging from a baking-hot desert to the chilly exterior of a high-flying airplane. It’s available as an antenna, as a terminal or in a flyaway configuration, and it’s tailor-made for Kymeta Connect.

u8 configurations
Kymeta’s u8 platform is available as an antenna, as a terminal or in a flyaway configuration. (Kymeta Photo)

Kymeta is partnering with a variety of connectivity providers — including Intelsat on the satellite side and Cubic Telecom on the cellular side — to offer a variety of satellite and hybrid satellite-cellular packages. The Kymeta Connect offerings build on the company’s existing partnership with Intelsat on its Kalo connectivity service.

Potential users include first responders, construction crews and the military as well as maritime vessels and ferries, trucks, trains, buses and vehicle fleets.

Kymeta is turning up the spotlight on the u8 antenna and the Kymeta Connect service this week at the Satellite 2020 conference in Washington, D.C. It aims to roll out its offerings between now and the end of the year, initially focusing on the U.S., Europe, the Middle East, Asia-Pacific region, sub-Saharan Africa and Oceania.

“We have beta units that will start seeing the market in early summer. … Before we call it general availability and turn up the production lines, we want to put a certain number of units out in the field with valued customers,” Marks said.

Founded in 2012, Kymeta is one of several metamaterials-based ventures spun out from Bellevue, Wash.-based Intellectual Ventures with financial backing from Gates and other investors. Its most recently reported funding round raised $73.5 million in 2017, with Intelsat as an investor.

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