Kymeta gearing up for GX tests; Honeywell talks

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Kymeta could begin testing transmissions of Inmarsat’s Global Xpress (GX) Ka-band service via its metamaterials-based flat panel Ka-band antennas by as early as spring 2014.

“As soon as Inmarsat is ready to authorize us to test over their system, we will do that with our terrestrial and portable transportable devices at the earliest possible date. That could be as early as June 2014,” Kymeta chairman and CEO Vern Fotheringham told Runway Girl Network in a recent interview.

Inmarsat on 8 December 2013 launched the first of three GX satellites from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Two days later, Kymeta successfully demonstrated bi-directional high-speed Internet connectivity with Telesat’s Anik F2 high-throughput Ka-band satellite, representing the first time a metamaterials-based antenna established an Internet connection over a satellite link, according to the firm.

Fotheringham is extremely encouraged by the initial tests, which “measured the antenna’s ability to connect with and maintain a tight beam; we met the ITU mask, which was cool since this is only a 15in square aperture. It’s very small,” he says. “We were leasing 2MHz of bandwidth to do the test over. We were simply testing the RF and the antenna’s capability to form a nice, tight beam that can be electronically steered to a satellite. It performed better than our simulation results said it would – better than 100%.”

Prototype units of a VSAT-type product are expected to be ready for field trials in 2014. Thereafter, Kymeta will roll out antennas for aero and maritime. Redmond, Washington-headquartered Kymeta holds an exclusive R&D agreement with Inmarsat to enable business jets of any size to access high-speed broadband connectivity worldwide through GX.

“The aeronautical [side] requires fast beam steering to keep up with banking aircraft so the whole purpose of working with Inmarsat was to ensure at the earliest possible date, communications on the move and high-speed beam switching – some 1.5 to 2 years earlier than we would have done if [relying] on our own risk capital and pay-as-you-go business model. And the relationship gave Inmarsat surety that they would have a good option when they go to market with Kymeta,” says Fotheringham.

Final deliverables to Inmarsat are due from Kymeta in January 2015 and then the two firms will enter discussions about whether to enter a more formal arrangement. Honeywell is the terminal unit provider for the GX program so “it will be up to Honeywell if they want to embrace Kymeta as part of their solution base”, says Fotheringham, adding, “Watch this space mid-year; that would be when that becomes part of the dialog.”

If a path forward is agreed between the players, Kymeta would then start doing inflight testing “to get our antennas and those terminals certified, and that’s another 12-18 or 24 months after the delivery date. We’re doing everything in our power to accelerate that, but as you know the aircraft industry is big and slow moving,” says Fotheringham.

It’s likely that Honeywell would be the point person for discussions with airframers, but “that would be in Inmarsat’s purview to decide”, he says. “Until then we’re putting our shoes on each day and getting these antennas up to a stage of maturity to turn their promise into reality.”

Indeed Kymeta – which now boasts 100 employees – certainly isn’t sitting on its hands. “We are a new company daily trying to get smarter about the market opportunities. We’ve certainly had preliminary discussions with the airframers and Allan McArtor [chairman] of Airbus North America is on our board of advisors,” notes Fotheringham.

He points out that McArtor previously served on the senior management team of Federal Express Corp (including as senior VP for telecommunications). “Allan was the inventor of the VSAT [product], in terms of commercial, when he was head of FedEx communications, when they needed a small aperture terminal. He is on our advisory board for far more [reasons] than his current employment at Airbus, but that gives us unique insight into challenges and problems they [airframers] face. And we’re of course neighbors here with Boeing [in Washington] and learning as much as we can.”

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