Perched 170ft above the deck of Maltese Falcon, sitting on the yard at the top of the foremast, I must admit that the view across the bay to Monaco was nothing less than spectacular. The coming and going of traffic to the port from the fleet of superyachts swinging to their anchors was a hint of the frenetic activity that would begin the following day as the 2017 Monaco Yacht Show opened its gates to the industry and the public.

The frenetic activity was not just going to be limited to the show area itself however, and the view down to Maltese Falcon’s deck perhaps suggested why. Forward I could see the top of the radar and satellite dome mast that sits so prominently at Maltese Falcon’s bow; but amidships, either side of the centre mast, I could just make out four small octagonal plates on the coachroof. These were the Kymeta flat panel antennas that it had been revealed Maltese Falcon had been trialling in real-world conditions since May. It was a philosophically revealing view – forward, the past; and back aft, the future. The fact that the VIP tours of both Maltese Falcon and motor yacht White Rose of Drachs – the other test bed for the flat panels – were booked solid for the entirety of the show suggested that the buzz around this metamaterials tech was reaching fever pitch.

In many ways such a buzz was understandable. Much talked about over the last four years, Kymeta’s electronically steerable aperture solution is finally on the brink of commercial availability, and the trials over the last five months were the proof Kymeta needed that it’s solution worked. This was my chance to get some one-on-one time not only with Håkan Olsson, VP Maritime at Kymeta, and group managing director of e3 Systems Roger Horner, but also the captains of both Maltese Falcon and White Rose of Drachs. So how had they found the panels in practice?

“From our side as a sailing yacht we encounter some factors that motor yachts don’t care about,” says Nikolaos Leontitsis, captain of Maltese Falcon, “such as wind resistance and weight, and with this solution we are solving these problems. Even when we were sailing, for sure the panels were from time to time blocked a certain percentage but it didn’t really affect the overall performance. It slowed down at some points, but it was still a lot faster than our traditional VSAT. Sometimes we were sailing at really hard angles with 15 degrees of heel, but it didn’t affect it – we have moving masts, we heel a lot maybe for days at a time, but it still works.”

It has been a similar story on White Rose, which chose to activate only one of its traditional VSAT links with the knowledge that the Kymeta panels were going to be added. And if the proof, as they say, is in the pudding, then the pudding appears to have been very well cooked. “Unless I get told otherwise,” says Andrew Schofield, captain of White Rose, “we’re going in the shipyard in January 2018 and one of the jobs will be to take the domes off.”

For Kymeta and e3 Systems, the trials have been a chance to test hardware and service provision in both the Caribbean and the Mediterranean. There have been niggles, which have gradually been sorted out during the testing phase. “Initially we had problems with the I/O box,” says Olsson, “but we’re on the fourth iteration now and it’s officially approved. The second issue we had was with the cable between the I/O box and the antenna itself – in a few of them, the connectors weren’t sturdy enough but they have been through several iterations and they are now in their final production version. We had an issue with the built-in GPS on two of the beta panels due to a loose connector that wasn’t affixed using the normal manufacturing techniques, and finally we discovered a problem tracking one of the older satellites in the Caribbean, which turned out to be because the satellite’s mega symbol rate was lower than the antenna was designed for. That was kind of an ‘aha!’ moment as we hadn’t really realised that the lower symbol rate satellite was still in operation.”

Seeing the panels up close brought home another fascinating aspect of the tech. With the antenna, buck, and associated hardware presented as one compact package – which can be lifted, moved and installed by one person – Kymeta is offering essentially a plug-and-play satellite solution. Further, the panel comes with an X7 modem and 12 months of Kymeta’s Kalo service, meaning in reality you can pull the panel out of the box, plug it in, and be online within 10 minutes. Further, says Horner, with e3 deliberately refusing to tie the panel to a particular airtime service provider, there is not only marked flexibility –essential for the modern superyacht – but also there could well be the beginnings of a price war brewing. “We can get to a much bigger market place and we have different options, different types of service from the different service providers,” Horner explains, “and they will compete against each other. It’s in the customers’ interests to be able to have options.”

It was hard not to be impressed by what I saw on both Maltese Falcon and White Rose, and by what I heard both from their captains and from the Kymeta and e3 Systems teams. Perhaps I should have concentrated my view from the mast top less towards Monaco, and more towards the horizon – it seems fairly clear that we are on the brink of heading beyond it in satellite communications.

 

We take a detailed look at the Kymeta trialling process aboard both yachts in issue 183 of The Superyacht Report. Have you subscribed to The ‘new’ Superyacht Report? If you are a captain, owner, yacht manager, chief engineer, first officer, broker, designer, senior shipyard management, an owner’s representative, investor, or a family office, you are eligible for a complimentary annual subscription to the only superyacht industry publication worth reading. To apply for your VIP subscription, click here.

 Technology will also be a key focus in this year’s The Superyacht Forum, taking place 13-16 November at Amsterdam RAI. Following a theme of A 10-year Blueprint for the Superyacht Market, the forum is set to be the networking highlight of the superyacht calendar, with 800 delegates and key decision makers from the technology, operations, owner and family office, project management, yard and construction sectors brought together to discuss the key factors affecting and influencing our industry. To book your place and for further information, click here.

Photo: Tim Thomas/The Superyacht Group

 

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