Kymeta, Panasonic Deal Brings Unique Antenna on Board: M-SAT Technology to Impact Commercial and Private Vessels

We’ve moved past signal flags, but maritime communications still lag behind the wireless technologies available on the mainland. In the ever-innovating tech industry, however, where there is lack, there is potential. Last month, Bill Gates-backed metamaterials surface antenna technology (M-SAT) innovator Kymeta Corp. successfully tested a unique satellite antenna that is a fraction of the size of the models ships currently use. This month, Panasonic Avionics Corp. picked up the M-SAT Technology design for its maritime terminals.

Original Metamaterial Surface Antenna Mounted On Ships

Unlike older models – dome-shaped colossuses that must be installed in vessels by crane – the Kymeta model is about the size and shape of a stop sign. In fact, the flat, thin design is light enough to be carried on the ship and installed by hand. Despite its relatively miniature size, the Kymeta model can pick up satellite signals as well as the 200 pound maritime models that came before it. On land, antennas are typically stationary, but, at sea, antennas must acquire and track satellite signals from a moving base. Kymeta testing conducted last month found that its new model is powerful enough to maintain a connection over at least an 8,000 mile journey.

Kymeta Model

Panasonic will install maritime terminals incorporating the Kymeta antennas in thousands of vessels beginning in 2017. Thanks to the new lightweight antenna, these terminals will be easier to install and to replace than older models. The new lightweight technology will also bring reliable satellite communication and internet accessibility to a wider range of vessels than ever before.

On the open seas, satellite is the only widely available internet connection. While, due in part to a latency of between 500 and 1500 milliseconds, satellite lags behind cable and DSL connections on land, satellite sets the speed limit offshore where wireline connections are impossible.

With a download speed of between 5 and 15 Mbps and an upload speed of between 1 and 2 Mbps, today’s satellite internet is up to 270 times faster than dial-up. Despite its limitations (no real time gaming, for example), satellite internet supports normal online functions as well as video streaming, video conferencing, and VoIP.

Increased internet availability on the high seas, due to Kymeta’s M-SAT advancements, positively impacts both commercial and sport vessels. For commercial vessels, it is even possible to use a VPN with satellite Internet, although, because encrypted data is resistant to acceleration software, satellite speeds are half as fast with a VPN.

M-SAT technology uses arrays of new composite materials to enable consistent communication between a satellite and an antenna even when the antenna is in motion. As such, the technology is a crucial means to improving internet connectivity offshore.

The M-SAT innovator Kymeta Corp. is a favorite project of Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates, who is currently the company’s biggest funder. The company also receives funding – and legitimacy – from high-profile venture capital firms Lux Capital and Osage University Partners, from telecommunication company Liberty Global, and from The Kresge Foundation.

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