Nathan Kundtz: Internet From Space

"We're changing the way the world communicates and in particular how it communicates mobilly."

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There already is web access by satellite today but it's incredibly expensive. Nathan Kundtz, President of Kymeta Corporation, explains how to make mobile internet from the sky much cheaper. Just combine an innovative dish design with a new generation of satellites. It might be a system we'll use in our cars in future.

Internet über Satellit ist nichts Neues, aber heutzutage ist es immer noch unglaublich teuer. Nathan Kundtz, Präsident der Kymeta Corporation aus den USA, hat eine Idee, wie man das viel billiger hinbekäme – mit der Kombination eines innovativen Designs der Empfangsschüsseln und einer neuen Generation von Satelliten. Das System könnten wir in Zukunft auch in unseren Autos nutzen.
 

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Autor: Timur Diehn
Produktion: Webclip Medien Berlin
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Das Interview entstand am Rande des Zukunftskonkgresses 2016 des 2b AHEAD ThinkTanks.

Transkript des Videos

We're changing the way the world communicates and in particular how it communicates mobilly. 

The internet over satellite is something that has actually been possible for a while but has been very expensive. And it's been expensive for a number of reasons. One of them is that if you wanted to use that mobilly which is principally why you would want to have internet over a wireless signal, you're using very low frequency satellite signals and you're paying outrageous amounts, in fact if you use those same satellites still you pay outrageous amounts, something in the order of 20 euro per megabyte. And so that can change if you go to higher frequencies, and those frequencies have typically been used for services like direct-to-home television. But once you change that and you start to use those satellites to provide internet access the world opens up. And what's happening now is that those satellites are becoming more and more powerful as they leverage some of the same techniques that have been learned for cellular connectivity. And so two principal things, one is that they are starting to use smaller and smaller what is called spotbeams. That's something I can to, say a cell in a cell side, so the smaller you get the more spectrum use happens. But the other and maybe even more exciting thing that's happening is people are beginning to launch what I call non-geo synchronous satellites. So before I tell you what non-geo synchronous satellites are I tell you what geo synchronous satellites are. Most of the communication satellites today are put 30,000 kilometres away from the earth where they orbit the earth at the same rate that the earth actually turns. Because of that they appear to be fixed in the sky. That's very far away and relatively expensive to access. If you put them closer you can actually get better signal strength, and you can get much better coverage. But there's a problem. They move across the sky which means that suddenly you need to have a dish tracking them. Our products will be the very first ones that can actually do that at a consumer price point with no moving parts whatsoever. 

It's a very different way of even thinking about antenna design. It's not something that's been done before. So in the case of Kymeta not only we are purging the antenna design in a completely new way. But then the use of liquid crystal technology is something that hasn't been done in microwave technologies very much at all either. And so this will be the first time that's been commercialized.

Right now if you want to communicate with say a satellite you put up one of these big dishes that focusses the signal down to single points so that you can receive it. And what we have done is we have replaced that with a flat surface that we can actually produce using liquid crystal display technologies. And that surface can actually be pointed electronically to pick up a signal in any direction. What that does is it takes everything we do with satellites today for fixed surface like television and internet access and makes it possible to make that mobile. And the reason that that's important is that most of the world's wireless spectrum is actually locked away in those satellite assets. And so if you really count it up it's almost 5,000 times more capacity available via satellite than is available on terrestrial wireless networks that we use today. But it's only used for fixed services principally right now. And so this will be the first time in any application that it becomes mobile. Needless to say it's very interesting to a number of people in different industries, so we work with people in the shipping industry, aeronautical industry, rail industry and even a small company in Japan that makes cars called Toyota. And just to pick on that one as an interesting use case, Toyota has a tremendous challenge as they move forward with being able to improve the software in their cars which is increasingly something that dominates the cost of the car and the reliability of the car. Also, they are looking forward to more and more autonomy in their vehicles and have a desperate need to update things like maps at very high resolution and very large data sizes. But they don't have a good way to get that into the car right now. It's very expensive to do terrestrially where there even is terrestrial coverage, and I think it's important to remember that many of these firms are global companies, and so it needs to work as well in Africa as it does in Germany. And then that's foredone by concerns about security, so satellite is one of the most secure ways to actually get this information to the ground because there's a chokepoint in the actual satellite itself, physical access to the signal.

Already a number of companies are exploring the use of these non geo synchronous satellites as ways to get very cost-effective capacity into space. And these aren't small companies. These are companies like Airbus and Intelsat. We're working in partnershp with a company called OneWeb. Space Access also announced plans to launch their own constellation, and a number of other companies that happened to announce beginning to plan and talking to us about what they need to get access to the satellites. What's really exciting about that is in many cases for the first time you have low latency, high capacity coverage in areas that just don't have it today. And so in large parts of Africa, large parts of India, a great deal of Asia there simply is no internet access today. And so to think about that essentially falling almost free from the sky is very exciting. But you have to have the right technology on the ground to catch it.