The dream of cheap, high-speed satellite broadband is now one step closer to reality. Yesterday, the patent-licensing giant Intellectual Ventures announced it has spun off a new company, Kymeta, to bring its beam-steering antenna technology to market.
The lure of IV’s—now Kymeta’s—antenna design is that it relies on metamaterials, which can bend electromagnetic waves in ways natural materials can’t. By equipping a radio antenna with an array of hundreds or thousands of metamaterial elements, IV engineers claim they can electronically tune the array “to point and steer a radio signal toward a satellite.” This creates an unbroken broadband link to whatever device is carrying the antenna—whether it’s a boat, a plane, or the laptop in your briefcase.
The ultimate application of Kymeta’s technology may be cheap and fast Internet connections on airplanes, trains, buses, cruise ships, and military vehicles. But IV says the company’s first product will probably be a portable, laptop-sized antenna that gives you an instant Internet hotspot anywhere in the world.
Kymeta, which was jumpstarted with US $12 million in investments from Bill Gates, Lux Capital and the cable company Liberty Global, is calling its new product line mTenna. IV says the company’s first customers will likely be mining and defense companies. But ordinary consumers, sick of paying data roaming fees or hunting down Wi-Fi hotspots, may not wait long to get in line.