Are Domes Doomed?

Kymeta's flat-panel satellite antenna adds visual aesthetics and dependability.
By Andrew Parkinson ,

The striking lines of a well-designed superyacht are a thing to behold, satellite domes and all, but as a new generation trends toward a more streamlined aesthetic, those big, puffy white domes may soon be more nuisance than necessity.

Enter the first-of-its-kind, flat-panel satellite antenna from Washington state-based Kymeta Corp. Conceived to be integrated in a yacht’s superstructure, Kymeta’s mTenna solution is lightweight, flat and thin. The technology is electronically steered, and it automatically acquires a satellite and provisions itself on a network. The antenna is scalable to support significantly higher internet connection speeds and live entertainment from the same flat panel.

With modern yacht design trending toward a more streamlined look, the days of satellite domes atop every yacht may be numbered.

Kymeta's flat-panel satellite antenna eliminates the need for bulky radar domes atop every yacht.

The mTenna technology is expected to become commercially available this year, as part of the Sharp Corp. production line. With Bill Gates as one of its early investors, Kymeta wrote several contracts at the Monaco Yacht Show in September.

There are other options, of course, including ones that use phased-array technology. Some of those antennas have been used in aviation, as they can be built to the curvature of an airplane fuselage, creating less wind resistance.

That approach may ultimately win out in the yacht market, but Roger Horner, group managing director of e3 Systems—who has been working with Kymeta for the last three years and whose company is the only Kymeta certified partner for yachting—says he thinks the Kymeta approach to the technology is ideal.

“On a yacht, the panels need to be cooled,” he says. “Kymeta’s mTenna solution is one panel, or a series of panels distributed around the yacht that work as a single unit. Each panel draws a few watts of power—which is virtually nothing—so it doesn’t build up heat. Another important feature of the mTenna solution is that the same panel can be used to transmit and receive.”

As with all flat-panel technology, a single Kymeta panel will track satellites within a 140-degree angle above the yacht, which is great for yachts that cruise in a fixed region. If a yacht is going to cruise globally, then a minimum of four panels is recommended. Each antenna panel costs around $30,000, so a system that would replace two VSAT antennas and two TV antennas would be less expensive than the conventional dome solution. Panels can also be combined to increase gain and reduce airtime costs, Horner says.

The Kymeta antenna can also receive multicast TV channels. “At the Monaco show,” Horner says, “we were receiving eight TV channels while providing internet connectivity using the same panel. We expect yachts to replace both satcom and TV domes altogether.”

As John Minetola, e3 Systems sales manager for the Americas, explains, the combination brings additional savings.

“You’re saving on the price of the TV antennas and the monthly subscription fees for each set of receivers for every continent visited,” Minetola says. “With multicast TV, it doesn’t encroach on your subscribed internet bandwidth, so there is no additional cost. If an owner wants his own home TV, then by using an IPTV service he can have that available anywhere internet connectivity is available. To use IPTV, you’ll be paying for the internet access, but airtime/internet prices are falling as HTS [high-throughput satellites] and LEO [low-Earth orbit] satellites come online. There are plans to launch 9,000 new satellites over the next five to 10 years, so this is the way it will go.” 

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