Wireless technology company Kymeta Corp. has been in business for a grand total of seven months, but already it has landed a $6.2 million engineering contract with the Inmarsat satellite company to accelerate its product development. Kymeta has grown to more than 40 employees and contractors, including some of the leading experts in the field, and its Redmond headquarters is stocked with high-tech testing and development equipment.
The progress was enough to surprise Kymeta’s lead investor and board member — Bill Gates — during a recent visit to the company.
So what’s the big deal? Kymeta’s products in development include a portable satellite broadband receiver, about the size of a laptop, that promises to make it easier, less expensive and more energy-efficient to get a strong wireless signal anywhere in the world.
The company’s secret sauce is a metamaterials technology that can efficiently steer a beam to connect to a satellite without any moving parts. It can maintain a continuous broadband connection even on moving vehicles and aircraft.
Is this a billion-dollar public company in the making?
“Yes,” says Vern Fotheringham, the wireless industry veteran who is Kymeta’s CEO and chairman. “It’s a very big global market. We have extraordinary sponsorship. … We definitely believe we’re on a trajectory towards becoming a public company.”
Kymeta did have a running start. It was spun out of Intellectual Ventures, Nathan Myhrvold’s patent holding company, based on technology developed in the Intellectual Ventures labs. Kymeta’s founder and chief technology officer is Nathan Kundtz, who led the research effort in this area at Intellectual Ventures.
Gates’ involvement in Kymeta is an outgrowth of his longstanding association with Myhrvold and Intellectual Ventures. In addition to Gates, investors in Kymeta include Lux Capital and Liberty Global, the investment fund led by cable veteran John Malone. Investors put $12 million into Kymeta to launch the company last August.
Kymeta plans to leverage the coming wave of Ka-band satellites, which promise to bring much higher capacity Internet at a service cost comparable to current cellular broadband, Fotheringham says. Kymeta’s engineering agreement with Inmarsat has accelerated the company’s development of its “Aero Antenna” for business jets.
At the same time, Kymeta is planning to bring its mTenna portable satellite terminal to market in 2015, initially at a price in the $5,000 to $6,500 range, targeted to customers including large media organizations and the oil and gas industry, with a need for remote communications. Over time, the prices are expected to come down to appeal more to a mass market.
For CEO Fotheringham, it’s a capstone job in many ways, giving him a chance to apply what he has learned as the past leader of companies including Advanced Radio Telecom, ADAPTIX and others. At times Fotheringham’s past ventures have been too far out in front to ultimately realize their full potential.
“I’ve been blessed to be out on the pointy end of leading-edge technologies for the entire arc of my career,” he says.
Here’s another Kymeta video giving a behind-the-scenes glimpse of the company.