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Kymeta’s antenna can provide a broadband communication link for maritime vessels. (Credit: Kymeta)

Redmond-based Kymeta Corp. and Panasonic Avionics Corp. are setting sail on a new partnership to put Kymeta’s lightweight, flat-panel antennas on ships.

Today the companies said Panasonic will order a “significant volume” of the antennas, and also use Kymeta’s mTenna technology in maritime terminals that can be used on vessels around the world. The satellite communication system is due to go through testing this year and become commercially available in 2017.

Kymeta’s notable not only for its innovative metamaterials technology, but also for its lead investor: Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates. Over the past few years, the company has built up collaborations with the usual satellite suspects (Inmarsat and Intelsat) plus some not-so-usual suspects (Airbus and Toyota).

Kymeta antenna
Kymeta’s flat-panel antenna is roughly the size and shape of a stop sign.

For Kymeta, the key technology is an LCD-laden panel that’s the size and shape of a stop sign, but has as much capacity for broadband communications as the big dome-shaped antennas typically seen on cruise ships.

Kymeta’s CEO, Nathan Kundtz, showed off one of the panels during my visit to the Redmond lab on Tuesday. “It beats the hell out of something that would be this tall and 200 pounds,” he said as he raised his hand head-high.

Bill Marks, Kymeta’s chief commercial officer and executive vice president, said the antenna’s size makes it much easier to install and maintain. Antennas typically have to be put on ships using a crane. “With our technology, you can put it on by hand,” he said.

Kymeta’s technology combines multiple apertures in one antenna, which makes it easy to pick up whichever satellite provides the best communication link. That’s particularly attractive for maritime communication, where finding a high-speed connection can be challenging.

“There’s a whole bunch of things in the maritime world that are completely lacking good connectivity. You go out on the Sound here, and you don’t get anything,” Kundtz said. “You could put L-band connectivity out, but now you’re paying $25 a megabyte. … That’s not what we have come to think of as an appropriate type of connection.”

Paul Margis, Panasonic Avionics’ president and CEO, said in a news release that the agreement with Kymeta demonstrated his company’s commitment to bring broadband communications to a wide range of mobility markets.

“We believe this exciting breakthrough technology will enable rapid growth in many market segments,” he said, “and we look forward to working with Kymeta to set a new standard in connectivity for merchant vessels, yachts, river cruises and other vessels.”

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