WASHINGTON — SpaceX and OneWeb, two companies building thousands of satellites for broadband services, both expect to connect billions of the world’s least-served to the internet. The two most prominent developers of electronically steered antennas don’t share that aspiration, however.
Speaking at the Applied Innovation Conference here May 10, representatives from Kymeta and Phasor said their antennas are not currently being designed for consumer-focused satellite internet.
“I am telling you right now Phasor will never be at the very bottom of the food chain; we have no interest in that market,” said David Helfgott, founder and CEO of Washington-based Phasor.
Kymeta’s vice president of global network operations, Richard Hadsall, when asked by SpaceNews if Kymeta is interested in consumer broadband, simply said: “No.”
“Kymeta is really focused on the commercial enterprise and government market areas right now,” he said.
The absence of Redmond, Washington-based Kymeta, whose antennas starting shipping last year, and Phasor, whose antennas are slated for release this year, means satellite megaconstellation operators who expect to use electronically steered antennas will have to wait for other providers. Other companies like London-based Isotropic Systems and Alcan Systems of Darmstadt, Germany, are building electronically steered antennas with consumer broadband in mind, but those will take more time to reach the market. Isotropic and Alcan are both targeting 2019 releases of sub-$1,000 antennas. Kymeta and Phasor antennas, in contrast, have starting costs of tens of thousands of dollars.
New antenna systems are widely considered a requirement for the success of proposed low- and medium-Earth-orbit megaconstellations under development by OneWeb, SpaceX, Telesat and others. That’s because such constellations will need antennas that can track hundreds or even thousands of satellites as they zip across the sky, maximize capacity from high-throughput satellites, and be inexpensive enough that diverse users can afford them.
Brad Grady, a senior analyst at Northern Sky Research, said his firm forecasts 1.8 million electronically steered, flat-panel antennas to be shipped between 2017 and 2027, with low-Earth orbit (LEO) constellations driving 88 percent of demand.
“Broadband access as consumer-class connectivity services serving households, villages, etc., are really going to be driving the volume,” he said. “So of that 1.8 million … what we expect is about 1.5 million go just to broadband access.”
But Kymeta and Phasor said their focus is elsewhere.
Hadsall said Kymeta has been producing 70-centimeter Ku-band antennas since production began in October, and has delivered antennas to 23 customers around the world.
“Most of the high demand of those current 23 large customers are in that enterprise area of construction, mining, land mobile, agricultural and specifically [the Internet of Things],” he said.
Helfgott likened Phasor’s focus to that of LeoSat, a broadband startup designing a LEO constellation optimized for enterprise and other such deep-pocketed customers.
“LeoSat is really an outlier,” Michael Abad-Santos, LeoSat’s senior vice president of Americas business, said in comparing the company’s planned 84-satellite constellation to other megaconstellations in development. “We are not focused on this direct-to-consumer market. We are solely focused on the enterprise markets.”
While NSR projects consumer broadband to be the largest market by volume for flat panel antennas, Grady said it won’t be the largest revenue generator. Of the 1.8 million terminals to ship, 90 percent will be for broadband access and network backhaul, but will only comprise 30 percent of all revenue, according to the firm. Grady said antennas for inflight connectivity are likely to produce the largest chunk of revenues.
Kymeta’s focus on markets other than consumer broadband hasn’t stymied business with LEO satellite operators, Hadsall said.
“We are under contract for terminals to be delivered to be functional not only with the LEOs but continuing with GEOs, which the antennas are [functional with] currently. We are talking seven digits, the initial contract numbers for terminals.” he said.
Hadsall declined to name specific LEO operators, though Kymeta last year confirmed OneWeb was one of them.
Helfgott said Phasor is working with LeoSat and satellite Internet of Things startup Kepler Communications, and is in conversation with others. Even if there were no LEO constellations underway, demand generated from high-throughput geostationary satellites would still create “a very good market opportunity,” he said.