Common rationale suggests that bigger inflight connectivity antennas mean better performance, which might help explain why Connexion by Boeing’s bulky MELCO antenna – an engineering masterpiece in its own right – is still widely used by Lufthansa, despite Connexion’s 2006 demise (well, that and the fact that antenna replacement costs are steep).
Today, the physical footprints of new-design Ku-band and Ka-band antennas are still quite sizeable. Yet a number of companies are keen to challenge the status quo. Qest, for instance, has said it is developing a low height, single-panel antenna design for Ku that can be operated globally including equatorial flight routes.
In the Ka-band space, a company called Kymeta is on a mission to develop a new class of flat, very thin and low power “all-electronic” antenna products for a variety of mobile satellite applications, including Aero. According to Forbes, Kymeta recently closed a $12 million funding round that includes Microsoft chairman Bill Gates.
“If you think about that [traditional radome] hump on the back of the airplane it occupies a large surface area, but the bit doing the work – the aperture – is a small area. The nice thing about our technology is that it is basically a panel [think of it as a tile]. So we can use all of that surface area as aperture, whilst delivering much higher bandwidth and throughput,” claims Kymeta founder and business development advisor Russell Hannigan.
“It’s clear that the kind of technology we’re looking at has great appeal because we’re eliminating the mechanisms and doing all the beam stream electronically,” he tells the APEX editor’s blog.
At present, Kymeta is focusing its R&D efforts – in the Aero market – on providing an antenna for smaller aircraft and business jets “because it’s difficult to put a mechanical terminal on a commuter aircraft or business jet so there are tens of thousands of airplanes that are out there – and that will be built in the coming years – which can’t put current Ku or Ka systems on. We fundamentally believe operators will want low-cost, high-speed broadband wherever they go on the planet and business jets and commuter aircraft will want broadband connectivity,” says Hannigan. “Our focus is on the underserved markets today and as the technology develops we expect to be able to serve the airlines down the road.”
The business jet community also tends to be early adopters of technology, which is among the reasons why I’m gearing up to attend the National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) convention next week in Orlando, Florida (okay, the AvGeek side of me also wants to see what birds are on static display!)
Kymeta, which is exhibiting at NBAA, shows us its new technology in the following video.