Redmond, Wash.-based Kymeta Corp., the mobile connectivity company backed by Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, has joined forces with OneWeb to test satellite broadband services that make use of Kymeta’s u8 flat-panel antenna system.
“I’m very happy to report back that the tests were fantastic,” Neville Meijers, Kymeta’s chief strategy and marketing officer, told Mekhato. “Both sets of management were extremely pleased with the performance of the antenna.”
Meijers said that the tests of satellite acquisition, tracking and throughput — conducted in June and July in Toulouse, France — should bode well for providing always-there mobile connectivity for first responders as well as for government, military and enterprise customers.
That market is the sweet spot for Kymeta as well as for OneWeb, a satellite constellation venture that’s partly owned by the British government. One of OneWeb’s key partners is Airbus, which is headquartered in the Toulouse region.
Today’s report on the Kymeta-OneWeb team-up was timed to coincide with this week’s Satellite 2021 conference. Kymeta also took the occasion to announce that Walter Z. Berger and S. Douglas Hutcheson have become the company’s new co-CEOs (details below).
Kymeta is one of several Gates-backed ventures based on metamaterials — exotic arrays of electronics that make it possible to “steer” a stationary flat-panel antenna using software. Commercial applications of the technology were pioneered at Intellectual Ventures, based in Bellevue, Wash.
Kymeta’s u8 terminal has been commercially available for hybrid cellular-satellite connectivity applications since last year. For this summer’s test, the terminal was modified to hook up with OneWeb’s network of nearly 300 satellites in low Earth orbit, or LEO.
Meijers said the system was able to receive signals at a rate of about 200 megabits per second, and transmit at more than 40 Mbps, with latencies of 30 to 70 milliseconds. Latency — the time that’s required to receive signals at the speed of light — is a key advantage of LEO constellations. The shorter the time, the better the response for applications such as videoconferencing.
“A typical GEO [geostationary Earth orbit] network would be in the range of 600 milliseconds,” Meijers said. “A typical LTE [cellular] network would be somewhere in the region of 40 to 80 milliseconds.”
What’s more, Meijers said the signal-to-noise ratio was “impressive.”
Valery Gineste, OneWeb’s senior director of technology, said he was “excited about the performance demonstrated in these early test results.”
“The u8 will offer another great choice for OneWeb’s end customers, particularly those with constrained space requirements or who need communications on the move when OneWeb mobility services start to become available from the end of 2022,” Gineste said in a news release.
Meijers said Kymeta’s OneWeb terminal would roll out in mid-2022.
“In the second half of 2022, we will also actually bring out a terminal that has the capability to switch between GEO and LEO automatically,” he said. That should be particularly attractive for defense customers who want to switch between high-security GEO and low-latency LEO channels, Meijers said. Those customers, along with first responders, constitute Kymeta’s initial target market.
“We’re not a product that is targeted at consumers in the home — although in the future, with mobility-type products that are needed for autonomous vehicles, connected cars, busing, mining, trucking and agriculture, we are definitely focused on building our products for that sector of the market,” Meijers said.
OneWeb has said that it’ll start offering broadband internet services in Arctic regions by the end of this year, and it’s aiming to deliver full global coverage by mid-2022. Kymeta’s u8 terminal will be one of several options offered for OneWeb connectivity.
The team-up with OneWeb is just one of Kymeta’s partnerships for satellite connectivity: The existing u8 system can connect with satellites operated by a variety of GEO satellite companies including Intelsat, Echostar and Telesat. And last winter, Kymeta successfully tested its u8 terminals with Kepler’s LEO constellation, which is optimized for smart-device networking.
Other key players in the LEO satellite connectivity market include SpaceX, whose Starlink network is currently in an advanced beta mode; and Amazon, which is laying the groundwork for its Project Kuiper network but hasn’t yet launched any satellites. Meijers talked around a question about plans to work with Starlink or Kuiper.
“All I can say is that we work with all of the LEO constellations out there,” he said. “We think that both OneWeb and Starlink are really driving huge chainge in the satellite industry, and we welcome that. … Competition validates the business model that we’re going after, and we welcome working with all of the LEO and GEO players out there in the market.”
Update for 10:35 a.m. PT Sept. 7: Kymeta says its two newly named co-CEOs “will further strengthen the company’s continued advancement forward and launch Kymeta into the next phase of growth.”
Walter Z. Berger previously served as president and chief operating officer, and will now serve as president and co-CEO. S. Douglas Hutcheson, formerly Kymeta’s executive chairman, is now executive chairman and co-CEO.
The new titles took effect on Sept. 1, Kymeta said in a news release. Both executives joined Kymeta in May 2019, during a transitional period that began several months earlier when company founder Nathan Kundtz stepped down from the CEO role.