Gates-backed Kymeta wants to use satellites to connect cars

A Redmond, Wash., company that has the backing of Bill Gates says there is no need to wait for the next generation of wireless to come around for the connected car: It can use satellite connectivity.

"Satellite connectivity can best address the capacity, coverage and security concerns of conventional solutions to car connectivity. Better yet, these assets are available now. We don't have to wait 10 years for a next generation cellular network to be invented and deployed," said Nathan Kundtz, CEO of Kymeta, in a press release. "This will be crucial because five years from now, every car that comes off a production line should be connected. In fact, we should stop calling it the 'connected car', and just call it 'the car' because this is the future of automotive."

Kymeta just announced the closing of a $62 million Series D funding round to support its initiatives that include providing connectivity for land, air and sea. It's also lining up some big partners to go to market.

Intelsat is collaborating with Kymeta to bring high-speed connectivity to cars on a global basis. Sharp is contributing its liquid crystal display production technology toward the manufacture of Kymeta's new flat-panel satellite antenna. Panasonic Avionics has agreed to order a "significant volume" of Kymeta's flat-panel antennas for maritime terminals in vessels around the world.

And Kymeta and Toyota used the 2016 North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) in Detroit this week to show off a research vehicle based on the Mirai fuel cell vehicle, which is equipped with satellite communications technology from Kymeta.

Last month, Kymeta and Intelsat proved that a "dish" ground antenna was unnecessary for on-the-move satellite connectivity. The companies say their team recently completed an 8,000-mile demonstration across the United States using the Kymeta satellite-enabled test car. Over the course of the journey, the mTenna technology, embedded into the roof of the automobile, automatically acquired and tracked Intelsat Ku-band satellite signals while on the move.

They say the future of automotive connectivity is being revolutionized by high-throughput satellite connectivity combined with advancements in software-enabled, metamaterials-based electronic beamforming antenna technology.

Intelsat CEO Stephen Spengler points out that the automotive sector is a global business, where scalability and quality are essential for success. That's an area where AT&T (NYSE: T) has been betting big, counting at least 1 million connected cars tied to its system by the end of the third quarter of 2015. Last week at the Consumer Electronics Show, AT&T announced yet another deal with a car maker to embed its LTE modules, bringing its total number of deals with automobile OEMs to nine out of the 16 major car makers globally. The company also boasts that it was the first major wireless carrier to launch a global SIM platform for cars.  

Kymeta says it wants to connect "anything that moves." Gates has been an existing investor and participated in this latest funding round, along with Lux Capital, Kresge Foundation and Osage University Partners, as well as undisclosed strategic partners.

Gates is no stranger to the satellite industry. He was an investor with cellular pioneer Craig McCaw in Teledesic, which wanted to launch hundreds of low-orbit satellites around the Earth to provide a worldwide two-way broadband communications service. That didn't transpire, as the costs proved too much even for these billionaires. Since then, other satellite ventures have popped up with new models attempting to provide connectivity for all.

For more:
- see this press release and this release
- see this New York Times article
- see this GeekWire article

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