Satcom domes are begrudgingly accepted as necessary evils of megayacht design. No one likes the way they look, but there’s no alternative for connectivity. Until next year, that is. That’s when Kymeta Corporation, a mobile-communications specialist focused on flat-antenna technology, will have the first-ever flat-panel units available for purchase.
You may recall that in September 2013, we revealed that Kymeta was working on prototypes for yachting. Its partner was e3 Systems, a yachting communications, TV, and Internet connection specialist. (See “Bye-Bye, Unsightly Satcom Domes; Hello Flat Panel Antennas.”) It’s still collaborating with e3 Systems. But, just today Kymeta has announced another significant partner, Panasonic Avionics Corporation. The latter is a subsidiary of the well-known Panasonic. Panasonic Avionics Corporation is a global provider of in-flight entertainment and communication systems. It’s ordering “a significant volume,” it says, of Kymeta’s flat-panel antennas. It will also use Kymeta’s technology to manufacture and distribute these panels for megayachts.
The first shipment of Kymeta’s antennas actually goes out in a few weeks. However, they’re still prototypes—the fourth generation, in fact. Those are being tested on a number of megayachts that already signed up. The first commercially available Kymeta flat panels will come in 2017.
The antennas will eliminate the long-loathed “Mickey Mouse ears” effect on today’s megayachts. Consider the images below to be “before” and “after” versions of a megayacht’s mast. The left image shows the familiar domes. The other image shows the same yacht using one—yes, just one—integrated Kymeta panel. (And in case you’re wondering, yes, these are realistic illustrations. Kymeta has been consulting with a number of builders and designers.)
The single panel will do the job of all of the antenna domes currently needed aboard a yacht. Note that this is more than an aesthetic accomplishment. It has an impact on yacht construction and maintenance, too. The Kymeta panels average 80 to 90 centimeters in diameter. Each dome, meanwhile, occupies a few feet aboard some yachts, plus weighs several hundred pounds. Furthermore, Kymeta’s flat panels “steer” the antenna beams without moving parts, unlike a satcom dome.
So, why four generations of prototypes in less than two years? Simple: “We’ve gone through a number of evolutions on the technology side,” explains Hakan Olsson, vice president of maritime at Kymeta. “The requirements for the technology have evolved along with it.” For one, the original rectilinear design has been replaced by a circular one. “More important, glass-on-glass TV display solutions came to fruition quicker than expected,” Olssen says. Kymeta employs liquid crystal metamaterials-based technology, similar to the technology used in modern TV units. In brief, metamaterials are artificial materials engineered to affect light or sound waves in ways unattainable with natural ones. Metamaterials are used in aerospace and other industries. For yachting, as mentioned above, Kymeta’s application of the technology “steers” antenna beams without moving parts. Therefore, Olsson says, Kymeta has proven that its antenna can be “printed” on a TV display by the TV manufacturers the same way they currently print their existing TVs. To that end, Kymeta has partnered with Sharp.
Yet another evolution: One Sharp display can both receive and transmit. In 2013, the initial prototypes required one panel to receive and one panel to transmit. Furthermore, while the mountable panels each have a 60-degree view of a satellite, so four are needed for 360-degree coverage, the system will now switch to the single panel with the strongest “look angle” to transmit and receive.
Olsson says that each installation will be custom. Significantly, “there’s no need to put it on the mast,” he explains. You can even request the panel be incorporated into your superstructure’s design. Olsson adds refit yards, builders, and designers have all provided input to that end. Equally noteworthy, the concerns over metallic paint interfering with satellite acquisition seem unfounded. Olsson points out that RF-transparent paints exist and that Awlgrip even has a metallic-looking paint that it’s willing to test with the prototype panels.
In mid-December, Kymeta successfully tested its flat-panel antennas on Intelsat’s global satellite network. The company had already proven that the panels worked with Inmarsat’s existing and next-generation satellites. All of this means that the connectivity that you, your guests, and your crew expect will be possible.
For an in-sum view of how Kymeta is a game-changer, check out this video.