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Kymeta Demos First Ever Satellite Link With Metamaterials Antenna

The Intellectual Ventures spinoff is one step closer to cheap satellite broadband

2 min read
Kymeta Demos First Ever Satellite Link With Metamaterials Antenna

Still waiting for cheap, portable satellite broadband? Since it spun off from Intellectual Ventures last August, the Washington, D.C.-based startup Kymeta has been working on a line of products aimed at bringing affordable high-speed data service to remote or mobile locations, such as planes, trains, oil rigs and disaster zones. Now, after months in the laboratory, the company has announced its technology is able to work with an actual satellite.

This is no small feat. Kymeta’s satellite terminals rely on a proprietary beam-steering antenna design based on synthetic metamaterials, which can bend electromagnetic waves in ways that natural materials can’t. The antennas are flat and wide; the smallest are about the size and shape of a laptop. They are equipped with an array of metamaterial elements that can be electronically tuned to maintain a satellite connection. (For a more detailed description of the technology’s inner workings, read Katie Palmer’s January 2012 IEEE Spectrum story about it.)

There are other, less exotic ways of linking to a satellite on the go, such as with mechanical gimbals or phased arrays. But such systems are bulky, expensive, and power hungry. Kymeta is aiming for products that are lightweight, low power, and—because they can be manufactured using standard lithography—cheap.

Kymeta seems well on its way to showing this can be done.

Last week, the company claimed its “portable satellite terminal” successfully locked onto a broadcast satellite in the Ka frequency band—a logical first step, because it offers higher bandwidth than other commonly used bands. The antenna maintained the connection for hours while it received high-definition television programming, says Håkan Olsson, Kymeta's senior director of marketing. And apparently, the antenna required only 3 watts of power, siphoned through a USB cable.

Kymeta believes this is the first demonstration anywhere of a metamaterials antenna establishing a connection with a communications satellite. Olsson says the company's next big challenge is to go the other way—upload data from its metamaterials antenna to a Ka-band satellite.

Image: metamaterials antenna prototype, Intellectual Ventures Lab

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Why the Internet Needs the InterPlanetary File System

Peer-to-peer file sharing would make the Internet far more efficient

12 min read
An illustration of a series
Carl De Torres

When the COVID-19 pandemic erupted in early 2020, the world made an unprecedented shift to remote work. As a precaution, some Internet providers scaled back service levels temporarily, although that probably wasn’t necessary for countries in Asia, Europe, and North America, which were generally able to cope with the surge in demand caused by people teleworking (and binge-watching Netflix). That’s because most of their networks were overprovisioned, with more capacity than they usually need. But in countries without the same level of investment in network infrastructure, the picture was less rosy: Internet service providers (ISPs) in South Africa and Venezuela, for instance, reported significant strain.

But is overprovisioning the only way to ensure resilience? We don’t think so. To understand the alternative approach we’re championing, though, you first need to recall how the Internet works.

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