Kymeta says antenna will fly on commercial qualified aircraft


When Kymeta came on the scene several years ago, it generated quick buzz and a lot of excitement for its electronically-steered flat-panel metamaterials antennas, including in the aviation sector.

But some of Kymeta’s current and former partners – Inmarsat in aero and Panasonic in maritime, respectively – have suggested or intimated that the tech needs to cook a little longer. And various industry consultants attending this week’s Satellite 2018 conference in Washington DC said the same off record, in reference to Kymeta’s aero work specifically.

RGN reached out directly to Kymeta before and during Satellite 2018 to ask whether this is a fair assessment of the state of play. Read responses from Kymeta VP business development Steve Sybeldon and Kymeta chief strategy officer Bill Marks below.

Steve Sybeldon: Kymeta was founded in 2012, and is less than 6 years old. Since then Kymeta has proven to be the only company capable of commercializing an FPA with no moving parts, going from raw initial concept to a commercially available antenna, user terminal, and network services – Kymeta KĀLO services were developed in partnership with Intelsat and are currently available.

We have delivered numerous terminals to 23 customers, in 13 countries, representing 7 different use cases – with more coming online every day, and have received overwhelmingly positive reviews from the many customers who have tried our product – a long list which does not include Panasonic or Inmarsat.

Even the statements made by Panasonic and Inmarsat are not as broad as is intimated in this question; and are specific to the aeronautical market. We are making rapid progress in aviation as well, and will announce more when we think that it is appropriate.

Can Kymeta provide an update on its work in both markets? Will the aero market, in particular, take a few years or do you envisage installs on business jets in the near-term? And does Kymeta still have a robust relationship with Honeywell?

Steve Sybeldon: We are actively and rapidly making progress on bringing our commercially available product into aeronautical markets, and will announce more when we think that it is appropriate to do so.

One of your partners has been Honeywell and the Inmarsat GX program. Are you guys still working together at all?

Bill Marks: So we have a Ka prototype that we built and it’s very promising. You know, the way we kind of do our business [is] here’s our prototype, we show good results, we try to get some customer interest before we start spending a bunch of our risk capital to build something. We want to make sure someone is going to buy it. And where we got with Ka is we had a very promising prototype and then nobody was saying they would be interested in buying a Ka antenna so it sits in our lab looking for kind of a sponsor I guess, right. And sponsorship doesn’t mean money, it just means, hey I really want a Ka antenna … Everybody has great ideas about Ka, but nobody has really had a great business plan about it. GX is a great network that gives you global coverage but it has limitations that everybody knows about. 

Is there a need to maintain a certain amount of R&D in aero to keep your fingers in it?

Bill Marks: We do, but the fundamental antenna that we are building today works in aircraft, full stop. I mean it’s going to go on this, it’s already been on planes but planes I can’t talk about. It’s going to go on a, you know, commercial qualified plane, on an experimental basis with someone soon. So the physics and the fundamentals of the antenna work on a plane just as well as it works on a train or a bus. There is nothing that changes. What changes is what enclosure you put it in, how do you mount it. All the things that are very specific to aero. And we don’t have anybody in-house that does that. We will partner with somebody and say ‘here’s our antenna, you understand the aero business please make a good product out of it’.

On the maritime front, how many mTenna systems have been shipped in support of the KĀLO service in partnership with Intelsat? And how is the system performing?

Steve Sybeldon: It’s best to hear directly from those using the Kymeta solutions in the maritime space:

KĀLO is fulfilling a need for on demand internet connectivity that is easy to buy and use. Our familiar packages and flexible plans are very attractive for use cases where connectivity is needed for a seamless connected experience at reasonable rates.

We do not make announcements on the number of units deployed, including breakdowns by market segment.

There is growing excitement about Phasor’s phased array antennas. And I note that Kymeta and Phasor are regularly mentioned in the same sentence, as competitors. Appreciating that the two technologies are different, do you see Phasor as a rival?

Steve Sybeldon: Phasor has not been identified as a competitor in any of our customer engagements,  possibly because they do not have a product in the market.

Kymeta recently noted to SpaceNews that it is seeing antennas on trains, buses, boats, automobiles, construction sites, first responders and agriculture. How are the systems performing? And can you put a figure around the number of shipments for these markets?

Steve Sybeldon: We do not make announcements on the number of units deployed, including breakdowns by market segment. Since our commercial availability was announced last year, Kymeta end-to-end mobile communications solutions have been widely embraced.

We can share a several real-world examples of Kymeta deployments. While we don’t typically announce our customers, partners currently taking Kymeta solutions to market include Intelsat, e3 Systems, MCH, Profen Group, FMC GlobalSat, to name just a few – with more coming onboard every day.

Here is a small sample of real world examples across a broad set of industries and use cases where Kymeta technology is being implemented:

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  1. Felipe

    Who are these 23 customers?
    People that sign agreements with you before hand to buy systems and now they are obligated in spite of the performance?
    What is the performance, by the way?
    Is there any datasheet or specs available?
    How about test reports showing cross pol and side lobe and gain?
    This should be publicly available, no?

    I hear lots of hot air and guys in DC show are very cagey and cannot share any information. Why so secretive?

    The next is the Isotropic System guys who are now specializing in announcements and signing papers, and not doing anything else.
    At least Kymeta has a pizza box – these other guys have literally nothing.

    Makes our industry look foolish.

  2. Jonas

    As I have been following this, the most negative comments I’ve heard about flat panel technology have come from those in the industry that have the most to loose from flat panel technology (traditional VSAT hardware providers). I’ve seen it operational on two vessels (one in Europe and one in the US) as well as the Connected Car and it has worked as advertised. The only complaints I have right now are that the operational footprints for KALO are limited and I’m not crazy about having to use KALO service. As long as the panel will be open to other service providers (as they have stated), I see this becoming a non-issue. As for Isotropic, a small private hub in rural Wisconsin is hardly a benchmark. Maybe the real solution is to never pursue new technology….. Adapt or die.

  3. Felipe

    I have heard much more different complaints. Terrible gain, unstable performance, and price for multiple systems (which is required for certain applications) is too high.
    Where are the specs and prices and performance data? How come they will not show this, even to willing customers?

    Not Isotropic Networks in WI – Isotropic Systems is run by former O3B guys. They are the new flat panel company making noise.
    Literally, I believe, this is all they do.

    For certain, parabolic reflectors will go the way of the dodo if someone gets their act together. If Kymeta has spent $250M to get this far, how much will the other players (Phasor, C-COM, etc) need to spend?

  4. Xi Noon

    Jonas you are referring to Isotropic Networks surely?

    Isotropic Systems is a seperate company that is using optics I believe to steer the radio waves and reduce circuitry and costs, seems they have a long way to go but whatever they show their customers and not us evidently is enough to get them onboard, as far as I can see from the Isotropic Systems website they signed with the biggest names in every orbit, that can not be easy they must have something? With connected car I guess it does work but its at the price of a sunroof, i.e you cant have both. Its so far away from reality, Nathan CEO of Kymeta has no commercial experience and chasing those dreams is really letting Kymeta down I know many of the engineers and they are being led blindly.

  5. Xi Noon

    Tom, Felipe is entitled to his opinion. I will say he has a very negative view and is not supportive of anyone pioneering in the industry yes, maybe from a typical antenna company with much to lose, yes. For some reason Kymeta will never release performance data and swears customers to secrecy but I know none of the Yachts they installed have taken off their big antennas and rely solely on Kymeta, that is very bad news for them I guess.

    The two early stage companies I like are Satixfy its very cool what they are doing DSP wise and they have the modem already from the Raysat days I believe but nobody knows if the cost of DSP is going to enable a low cost high performance technology, and then we have Isotropic Systems, I know they are using optics to control the radio waves and a friend of mine has seen something working and showing good scan results but I believe they are early stages, still exciting news if they are able to get the attention of the big operators something the other guys have failed to do.

    I dont know what Felipe is talking about saying announcements and signing papers and not doing anything else, how else do start-ups raise money. He is a bit naive to say that. Makes our industry look foolish with such remarks.


    also to watch SES signed with them and Viasat and Istoropic for Mpower, I looked at Kymeta’s press releases and found this;

    So what happened since 2013 so bad that Kymeta did not even get a slot in the top 3 vendors for MPower??

    I heard Alcan is using the same technology but a lot cheaper, seems going first has cost Kymeta. I hope Kymeta can generate sales before they downsize I guess Bill Gates is just going to keep funding because he is rich?

    Seems like Kymeta have run out of steam and the only guys that will really put Flat Panels on aircraft etc will be Phasor and then great news that industry is trying hard to innovate with Alcan, Isotorpic and Satixfy the new emerging players. I hope they all make, that is where Felipe is wrong, he should be cheerleading anyone with the conviction to provide innovation not being an armchair critic, customers need new options for terminals, more choice and more affordability so I hope they all make it.

  6. Very interesting comments here. What amazes me is Kymeta are;

    a) not saying who their customers are that are so happy

    b) saying they are the first FPA, no they are not, they are a phased array, to the right of the Kymeta is an enormous box called a BUC/HPA its simply a phased array with a lossy surface structure as our president Trump would say liquid crystals…. BAD, Reaaly BAD.

    c) refusing to acknowledge the customers they lost are developing antennas with not one but a few companies. So why did they walk from Kymeta? It’s clearly stated from both it performance. So what they are claiming is there isn’t a market for Ka. No, what they mean is there is a market for a Ka antenna with their performance issues.

    d) if Kymeta were doing so well with the performance of their Ku antenna, aside from stating which customers they have so the reporters can check it out, one incredible testimony would be if a super yacht (for example) was running a VSAT service of meaningful bandwidth for a private owner (not charter) and were so satisfied with what they have, the REMOVED their parabolic infrastructure. The reason Kymeta wont do that, is I) it hasn’t happened II) if they said it had, well that would be a problem because all maritime vessels are tracked and sadly its easy to check when they are in port. The simple fact is not a single Kymeta antenna has resulted in the deinstallation of a parabolic gambled antenna

    It’s a shame because this segment has a lot of potential but Kymeta are spoiling the industry with a tireless marketing campaign resulting in the only people believing the press, is themselves.

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