Love it or hate it, we live in a connected world. We have developed a growing reliance on connectivity to the internet, a dependence on a fast connection to consume data at home, work, and on the go. And for anyone who is a boater, we’ve all been in that situation where we went to look something up, use an app, or send a text message, only to realize we don’t have any cell reception. Boats are often a terrible place to find an internet connection.
Sure there are solutions out there. WiFi and cell boosters, and large satellite domes can improve our reception, although sometimes at a prohibitive cost. And while these are clear #firstworldproblems, the lack of connection to the internet affects far more people in the world then those out on their boats. As connection to the internet becomes more and more important, large areas of both our country and the world are living in a disconnected world that creates growing disadvantage and information inequality.
Connection for remote locations and rural communities is the reason I should be excited about the new Kymeta Corporation mTenna ASM. But I’ll be honest and admit that what excites me is more selfish than that: it is the fact that we are coming into a world where I won’t have to worry about connectivity, especially when I’m on a boat.
You may not go out and buy one of these mTennas right away, as they currently retail for around $65,000. You’d have to be doing some serious work from your boat to justify that price tag. But considering the technology behind the mTenna is only four years old, this technology looks to be a game changer for the way we consume data around the world, and more likely than not, on our boats.
The mTenna uses satellite connectivity in a way that reads like science fiction. Traditional satellite antennas are large and cumbersome. They involve a “small” parabolic antenna that is mounted on a gimbal system so that it can rotate and adjust its angle to point at a geospatial satellite. But as anyone who has used the traditional satellite antenna for internet connectivity knows, these systems have largely lagged behind other methods in terms of speed, latency (the delay between asking for the data and receiving the data), and cost.
The mTenna is a whole different beast. It uses metamaterials (don’t worry I hadn’t heard of those either), which are man-made synthetics and other materials, to create a solid state, broad spectrum antenna that works as a satellite antenna. It has no moving parts, is controlled completely by software, and can be built into a hull's surface or mounted in a much smaller footprint than a classic radar dome. Plus , it has only the footprint of a stop sign. mTennas can be networked to increase bandwidth and once their satellite network is completed you will be able to get ultra fast speed (>100mbps).
What does this mean for Joe Boater right now? Probably not much unless you just won the lottery. But it means the sort of connectivity many of us crave is soon to be ubiquitous: Kymeta flat panel antennas will be at the forefront of this next giant leap in internet connectivity. But it may not be competition in the market that will eventually bring prices down, but Kymeta's goal of providing high speed, low cost internet to disadvantaged communities.
If you do win the lottery, look what you could do:
Kymeta itself is well funded, and likely won't go belly-up or develop a receiver without the satellite network to back it up. They have a five-year roll-out plan on their geospatial satellites to provide their products with global coverage. Yes, global coverage by 2023, which is an ambitious and impressive timetable.
As it turns out, the satellite antenna is only part of Kymeta’s business plan. They are also seeking to provide low-cost data plans to consumers that are more similar to how you currently buy cell phone data and less complicated and less expensive than most existing satellite data plans.
So, I wouldn’t suggest putting one of these flat satellite antennas on your Christmas list this year, but I would keep a keen eye on Kymeta in the near future, because very soon you’ll be hearing about how they changed the way the world uses the internet. For many, it will mean connecting their communities to the internet in a way that creates digital equality. For you, it might mean that you'll easily be able to stream Netflix to your boat's TV or devices while at anchor in a remote cove.