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Kymeta antenna
Kymeta’s mTenna antenna system can bring turnkey satellite connectivity to buses, trains and remote sites where cellphones can’t get a signal. (Kymeta via YouTube)

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Five years after its founding, the Kymeta antenna venture backed by Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates is releasing its first commercial product – and partnering with satellite operator Intelsat on a new broadband data service dubbed Kalo.

Kalo (rhymes with “halo”) and Kymeta’s integrated antenna and data terminal system made their debut today at the Satellite 2017 conference in Washington, D.C.

“Anything you could do on a cellphone, you can now do with a satellite,” Bill Marks, chief commercial officer for Kymeta, headquartered in Redmond, Wash., told GeekWire.

One big difference is that Kalo’s Ku-band service will be accessible from virtually anywhere in the world, thanks to Intelsat’s constellation of 52 telecom satellites. The bandwidth can exceed 100 megabits per second, which is comparable to cable modem speeds.

Kymeta’s president and CEO, Nathan Kundtz, said Kalo was aimed at making the purchase of satellite data services more akin to buying cellular service. Getting hooked up should be about as easy as setting up a smartphone – and way, way easier than setting up a steerable satellite dish.

“People don’t buy antennas,” Kundtz said today. “People don’t even want antennas. What people want is access and communication, and that requires world-class connectivity.”

Spengler and Kundtz
Intelsat CEO Stephen Spengler and Nathan Kundtz, Kymeta’s president and CEO, are all smiles as they announce the creation of the Kalo satellite data service. (GeekWire Photo / Alan Boyle)

You do have to pay for the access that Kalo brings: Marks said Kymeta’s stop-sign-sized (28-inch-wide) antenna and terminal will be made available at a packaged price of $25,000, starting in May.

Marks said monthly charges for the Kalo service will range from $29 for a gigabyte of data to $899 for 80 gigabytes. “It’s a fraction of the cost of satellite capacity today,” he said. And he expects the price to drop as more antennas are built and sold.

Eventually, Kymeta expects miniaturized versions of its antennas to pop up on connected vehicles. Just last month, the company announced that it could deliver enough broadband to an 8-inch-wide, car-friendly antenna to handle YouTube videos, Skype phone calls and internet browsing simultaneously.

Marks foresees a day when Kymeta’s antennas could cost as little as $250. “We understand that game, and there’s a path to get there,” he said.

For now, Kymeta expects its mTenna technology and the Intelsat-enabled Kalo service to bring connectivity to bus fleets, trains, ships, mobile emergency-response teams, remote construction sites and rural areas where connectivity is hard to come by. More than 50 owners of superyachts already have put in their orders, Marks said.

“We’re sold out, really, for our first six months’ worth of production,” he said. “I expect by the end of the show, the first year’s worth of production will be spoken for.”

Marks said the Satellite 2017 conference serves as a “coming-out party” for Kymeta, which was spun off from Intellectual Ventures in 2012 with investments from Gates as well as Lux Capital, Liberty Global and other heavyweights.

The company takes advantage of metamaterials, specially constructed electronic matrices that can bend electromagnetic waves to pick up satellite signals coming from any direction. The technology eliminates the need for moving parts, such as the gimbals that are traditionally required to point a dish at a given satellite.

Over the years, Kymeta has partnered with Intelsat as well as other big-name players, such as ToyotaInmarsat and Honeywell AerospacePanasonic, Sharp, Airbus and Aurum Security.

“At Intelsat, we’ve been looking for ways to expand the viability, the footprint, the scope of satellite communications globally,” said Intelsat CEO Stephen Spengler. “We have had this vision of taking the customer sets that we have today, in mobility, in broadband, and in government, in media, to build new networks of the future. But what we absolutely needed to have to recognize that goal is disruptive technology … a partner that is focused on innovation with that technology, and is really breaking new ground. … Kymeta is exactly that partner that we’re pleased to be with.”

Kundtz said Kymeta will manage the customer-facing side of the Kalo service from its offices in Redmond. The service is likely to benefit from Intelsat’s proposed merger with OneWeb, which is developing a constellation of hundreds of low-Earth-orbit satellites to provide global broadband access.

“We’re very excited about that merger,” Marks said. He pointed out that Kymeta is designing its antennas to switch their focus seamlessly from the geostationary satellites that Intelsat currently uses to OneWeb’s LEO satellites.

That would come in especially handy for connected cars, Marks said: “If something can improve the look angles or the capacity, we’re all for it.”

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