Kymeta unveils new antenna, plans to offer hybrid satellite-cell connectivity
Kymeta this week announced the commercial availability of its new u8 mobile antenna platform—a software-defined solution supporting satellite connections throughout the Ku-band and cellular LTE service—that lets the company offer an always-on hybrid connectivity bundle, starting at a price of $999 per month.
Bill Marks, Kymeta’s chief strategy officer, said the company hopes to make “satellite relevant to the masses” by removing the need for users to make a large upfront capital expenditure.
“If you’ve followed satellite in the past, it’s always been very expensive, very difficult to get the user terminals—they’re usually big domes on top of ships or other platforms,” Marks said during an interview with IWCE’s Urgent Communications. “It’s just not practical, it’s not affordable, and it’s just not relevant, because satellite capacity is also very expensive.
“We announced today that we want to make our plans look like cellular plans, so somebody—with no money down—can get our antenna and service for $999 per month … It eliminates the need to write a big check. Sign up for a subscription, just like you do with your iPhone. You get your phone, your service plans, and you get your support. That’s how we’re trying to change satellite to make it more relevant again.”
At the heart of the offer is the u8 antenna, the second generation of Kymeta’s flat-panel antenna that is designed to be installed on the outside of a vehicle to receive a signal from any cellular provider, as well as signals from any Ku-band satellite, including emerging low-earth-orbit (LEO) satellites, Marks said.
Kymeta’s first-generation product—the u7—does not offer this much flexibility, according to Marks.
“Because our antenna is software-defined and we leverage displays, … it give us the flexibility of using all of the satellites in space, instead of just pointing to one, like traditional dishes,” he said. “So, one minute we can tell it to point to Satellite A, and four seconds later, we could tell it to point to Satellite B on the other horizon.”
Through a new partnership with Cubic Telecom—a global MVNO based in Ireland—the u8 platform also supports cellular connectivity throughout the world, with automated, policy-based switching between the cellular and satellite connectivity.
“[Cubic Telecom has] a global SIM card that we have in our next-generation antenna. Not only can we look at all of the satellites in space, we can also look at all of the cellular networks,” Marks said. “Then, our software makes sure that the end user always has connectivity.
“So, if [users] are in a city, they may be using cellular. If they are out in the countryside or in a remote location, it will switch over automatically to satellite—and it continues to do that, back and forth, so they’re always connected … It’s not only satellite-cell, it’s all-satellite-cell. That’s what we’re capable of looking at.”
Having an external antenna provide a “pretty staggering” improvement in the connectivity range with cellular networks, and the Kymeta solution supports an automatic switch to satellite coverage when the user gets beyond the cellular footprint, Mark said. Not surprisingly, the hybrid-connectivity concept has appealed to first-responder agencies, he said.
“We are finding tremendous [interest] from first responders,” Marks said. “For example, the U.S. Forest Service is very interested, because either there is no cell coverage [in many areas where personnel are deployed] or the cell service is compromised, if they’re fighting fires. The ability just to have connectivity out in the middle of a forest is really important. Other [interest] is coming from the U.S. military and intelligence.
“We’re seeing other governments around the world adopting the technology for redundant communications, particularly areas that have lots of natural disasters that take down their terrestrial networks. They are looking at this as redundant, backup communications for entire countries.”
Cubic Telecom should not be confused with Cubic Corporation, a U.S.-based company that was founded in 1951 and developed multiple military training and communications systems, as well as the recent introduction of an interoperability solutions for the first-responder community.
Marks said Kymeta plans to deploy the hybrid-connectivity service with beta customers in June, with the service becoming generally available in October.
“With our new u8 terminal paired with Kymeta Broadband connectivity and support, we are making mobile global with a fully managed, optimized, and easy to use blended service,” Kymeta President and COO Walter Berger said in a prepared statement.
“It is a complete solution with an elegant simplicity that will be very attractive to companies who need predictable OPEX pricing for their regional mobile connectivity services. We believe this is an industry tipping point for unlocking new access to the internet in all parts of the world.”
Marks noted that flat-panel satellite antennas are not new, but they have been very expensive historically, noting that Boeing makes one that costs about $1 million and another competitor hopes to develop another satellite antenna that they plan to offer at a price point near $80,000.
In contrast, Kymeta’s offering does not require any upfront payment for equipment, because the equipment is included in the monthly service fee, Marks said. Kymeta can execute on this approach because its antennas leverage material commonly used in television and smartphone displays.
“When we set out to make this antenna, we wanted it to be something that we could scale and manufacture inexpensively,” Marks said. “We turned to the display-manufacturing world—the people who make TV sets and everything else—and we figured out a way that our antennas could be made on display lines. So, one day, they could make TV sets, and the next day, that same line could make satellite antennas.
“With that innovation, we knew that we could scale and drive the price down eventually to consumer price points to make it relevant to the masses.”