Innovative flat-panel antenna company Kymeta Corporation has today announced a ‘landmark agreement’ with Panasonic Avionics Corporation to take Kymeta’s antenna technology to several unique maritime markets. The move comes shortly after the successful completion of an 8,000-mile road test of the metamaterials-based panel antenna in December 2015 with Intelsat, for which an antenna was embedded in the roof of a car.

Under the terms of the agreement, Panasonic will order ‘a significant volume’ of Kymeta’s flat-panel antennae and will use Kymeta mTenna tech to manufacture and distribute maritime terminals for vessels around the world.

“We’re on the fourth generation of the mTenna,” Hakan Olsson – Kymeta’s Vice President of Maritime – tells, “as our engineers are constantly coming up with new ways of doing things. The panels are now being manufactured by Sharp in Japan on its TV display line, and all this has led to our discussions with Panasonic Avionics for antennae and terminals. Panasonic believes in this technology, and they’ve seen the progress we’ve made together with Intelsat. This new agreement is a huge milestone for us.”

The Kymeta metamaterials-based mTenna panel uses glass-on-glass TFT construction to create a flat-panel antenna with software-enabled electronic beamforming that can acquire a beam to an angle of 60 degrees from the vertical. It means that the panel could be fixed in place and still be able to acquire and track satellites. “If you’re close to the equator, for example, in the Mediterranean or Caribbean,” Olsson explains, “you could have just one panel facing straight up. If you’re a yacht cruising the world then you’d have multiple terminals tilted to create a 360-degree view, and we’re also looking at a panel that can be mechanically articulated toward a satellite for a better scan angle.”

Key to the mTenna’s selling points is the panel’s size and weight – a typical panel will measure 70cm in diameter, and with the appropriate housing will measure less than a metre in diameter, with a depth of 15cm to 20cm and a weight of around 11kg (25lb). The panels can also be concealed within the superstructure, and Kymeta’s combining technology means that several panels can be combined to act as one aperture – effectively, a giant single antenna. “One of our 70cm panels is equivalent to a 60cm parabolic,” says Olsson, “while two panels would equate to a one metre parabolic.”

The new agreement with Panasonic also has a nice symbiosis, as Panasonic is a major customer of Intelsat and will be a customer of Intelsat’s next-generation EpicNG satellite, the first of which – 29e – is due to launch late in January. EpicNG should allow for data streaming of hundreds of mbit/s, which should give a user experience similar to a home or office broadband system.

The new agreement also suggests that Kymeta is close to bringing its mTenna product to market, a fact comfirmed by Olsson. “We’ve tested the panel in the lab, but not yet in the maritime environment,” he says, “but we have plans for that with testing in January and further tests in the Spring which could be on a commercial vessel or a yacht. The first panels have been designed for the Intelsat Ku-band network, but in parallel we are also developing Ka-band."

"There will likely be three iterations of the panel from Sharp this year," Olsson continues, "and we should have a production prototype by Fall 2016 with an on-sale date early in 2017. Five years from now I don’t think there will be a single owner who wants to see a satellite dome on his yacht.”