Satellite Connectivity in a Pizza Box

Kymeta Seeks to Broaden Access to Mobile Connectivity

Last week, Kymeta announced that it has received blanket permission from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) for commercial distribution of its KyWay satellite terminals in the US.

Kymeta, a company from Redmond, Washington, describes itself as developing disruptive technologies for communications. It offers small, lightweight satellite antennas that enable moving vehicles to be connected using satellite-based services. This type of access isn’t new — there are millions of subscribers in the US alone using fixed satellite-based Internet — but the size of the bowl-shaped receivers has made wider use impractical.

Kymeta says its KyWay antennas are like a “magic pizza box that delivers the Internet”, enabling mobile communications around the world. According to the company, satellite spectrum has 5,000 times the capacity of all terrestrial networks and it hopes its small, light, thin antennas will bring robust throughput to moving vehicles such as cars, boats, trains and buses as well as remote construction sites.

These are bold claims, but the company does have some pedigree as well as support from investors such as Bill Gates and Toyota. It has also demonstrated that its technology works: earlier in 2017, its satellite antenna was used in the maritime industry, when it deployed its mTenna solution on a US-flagged container ship travelling between Seattle and Oakland, California. The antenna used software to create a beam that could be electronically steered to follow a satellite, allowing it to stay connected even while the ship moved.

Kymeta also received approval from the telecommunication regulator in the UK, Ofcom, to provide service to an unlimited number of vehicle-mounted and shipboard installations, as well as applications in the Internet of things in the country. Gaining Ofcom and FCC approval is a milestone for the company and its hopes for global expansion in the coming years.

The company’s use of the word “disruptive” would make it seem that its products could encroach on the markets for existing 4G and coming 5G communications technologies, but this appears unlikely. Kymeta could find a niche market bringing connectivity to vehicles that often travel to or through remote locations. Satellite services have a solid track record of filling in connectivity gaps rather than going mainstream. It’s not clear what Kymeta’s long-term ambitions are, but at this stage its technology looks like an intriguing solution.