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Satellite Uplinks For the Masses

timothy posted about a year and a half ago | from the let's-see-the-pricetag-for-the-masses dept.

Communications 49

kgeiger writes "Intellectual Ventures has spun out Kymeta to develop and mass-produce their mTenna product line. mTennas are based on metamaterials like the invisibility cloaks discussed on Slashdot and elsewhere. Metamaterials enable beam-steering that ensures an mTenna remains in contact with satellites even during motion. Kymeta will use 'established lithographic techniques' to make them. IMHO, these antennas may be as big a leap for mobile computing and remote communications as the invention of fractal antennas was for mobile phones."

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49 comments

Very cool, but nothing new (1)

reiserifick (2616539) | about a year and a half ago | (#41097677)

This is a great idea, and I hope trains/planes/etc start using things like this. Building beam forming devices is something of a hobby for me. (I built a simple microphone array for "steering" audio recording.)

Re:Very cool, but nothing new (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41098103)

This is a great idea, and I hope trains/planes/etc start using things like this. Building beam forming devices is something of a hobby for me. (I built a simple microphone array for "steering" audio recording.)

Can you form a beam that repels niggers? If it repels old people too that's even better.

Re:Very cool, but nothing new (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41098591)

Hmmm, one of those groups hates classical music and the other hates rap.

Actually, try Slayer, that might piss them both off, as well as any hippies that may be in the area.

Coming from a microwave engineer (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41097727)

IMHO, these antennas may be as big a leap for mobile computing and remote communications as the invention of fractal antennas was for mobile phones.

Sorry to be brash, but IMHO, you shouldn't be talking about things of which you have no knowledge. There's nothing new here. Phased array stripline antennas have been done to death. To death.

Re:Coming from a microwave engineer (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41097803)

Phased array stripline antennas have been done to death. To death.

Says you. I happen to have one with me right now. I'm putting it against my head. Nothing is happening. Now I'll put the second one against the other side of my head while making sure that if I do pass out that my body will hit the submit button. Okay, big whoop, nothing is happe

theory isn't new, price and power is (1)

Chirs (87576) | about a year and a half ago | (#41098117)

The whole point of this stuff is that they're inexpensive and low-power compared to existing designs.

Patent Troll Ready To Sue Anything With An Antenna (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41097811)

News at 11.

IV actually has a product? (3, Informative)

Jah-Wren Ryel (80510) | about a year and a half ago | (#41097897)

Is this the same notorious patent troll owned by former microsoft bazillionaire Nathan Myhrvold? The company that makes nothing but taxes just about everybody in the tech world and claims to be doing God's Work [techdirt.com] by not actually selling a mosquito-killing laser gun?

Re:IV actually has a product? (1)

kybur (1002682) | about a year and a half ago | (#41098093)

I thought of the mosquito killing laser gun years before they did.

I'm sure the reason they are not actually selling it, is that it occasionally sets nearby trees on fire when it misses a shot. My version won't start fires, but I'd be crazy to try to bring it to market knowing that the product would be in I.V.'s sights from the get go.

Way to kill innovation guys!

Re:IV actually has a product? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41098161)

I'd be crazy to try to bring it to market knowing that the product would be in I.V.'s sights from the get go.

just dont sell it in the USA, problem solved

Re:IV actually has a product? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41098269)

Eh, that's assuming IV doesn't also have a mosquito killing laser gun killing laser gun. On a satellite (to make it fit into this story).

Re:IV actually has a product? (1)

Genda (560240) | about a year and a half ago | (#41098887)

Actually its attached to a sharks head, but its only good for killing other mosquito killing lasers within 5 miles from shore.

Re:IV actually has a product? (2)

Jeng (926980) | about a year and a half ago | (#41098647)

Anonymously put the plans online for free.

It might not make you money, but it won't make them any money either.

Re:IV actually has a product? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41102025)

Anonymously put the plans online for free.

It might not make you money, but it won't make them any money either.

The OP was joking. But even if he were serious, what you describe would be moot as the point of the patent system is to publish the details.

Re:IV actually has a product? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41106609)

Anonymously put the plans online for free.

It might not make you money, but it won't make them any money either.

I did, anonymously, put my ideas on Slashdot, and they patented them! I don't care about them making money on me, but I care about taking away freedoms in the process.

Whenever you truly anonymously reveal something, anyone can claim it. Perhaps owner of the site should make a disclaimer for Anonymous Cowards posting that whatever they post becomes public domain, and for readers that any content on site which can not be attributed to anyone is also public domain. Perhaps then it could constitute a prior art.

Re:IV actually has a product? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41098813)

claims to be doing God's Work by not actually selling a mosquito-killing laser gun?

Actually they are. You see, a laser gun is the wrong weapon for killing mosquitoes [youtube.com]

Re:IV actually has a product? (2)

Genda (560240) | about a year and a half ago | (#41098947)

Indeed, I'm working at this moment on the mosquito nuke! A very tiny thermonuclear device that will incinerate anything in the 2 inch fireball. The problem is getting the fallout out of your rugs...

Re:IV actually has a product? (1)

Jeng (926980) | about a year and a half ago | (#41099271)

And that is why I am working on a small caliber rail gun. It doesn't have the problem of fallout, but it does have a slight issue with over penetration.

Re:IV actually has a product? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41103391)

The reason patent trolls can function while pissing off everyone in the industry, is that they produce nothing (except lawsuits), and hence are immune to retaliatory claims from other patent holders. There's no way Intellectual Ventures will ever bring more than a handful of Potemkin products to market, it would wreck their business model.

A transparent attempt to improve IV's public image (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41097943)

Propoganda -- little else.

i'm nuking this shitty windows box (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41097989)

wut distro shud i use on this fucker or shud i go bsd, also ubuntu is too fuckin noob so don't say it, recommend me a real distro for serious ppl

Re:i'm nuking this shitty windows box (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41098059)

wut distro shud i use on this fucker or shud i go bsd, also ubuntu is too fuckin noob so don't say it, recommend me a real distro for serious ppl

OSX Mountain Lion! You're a f@9 if you don't.

Re:i'm nuking this shitty windows box (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41098095)

bro i already for a mac desktop and macbook pro my dude i just have no use for this windows turd someone floated me

Re:i'm nuking this shitty windows box (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41098753)

If you are looking to be truly leet then you make your own.

Vapor (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41097997)

Get your vaporware here!

It's just a phased array (4, Informative)

rgbe (310525) | about a year and a half ago | (#41098007)

This is just a phased array antenna (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phased_array). The applications of a phased array allow you to have a direct "beam" to the transmitting tower, which means that you can use significantly less power, and possibly transmit over a larger distance. The idea has been around for a long time, almost 100 years.

It will be interesting if they get this to work, especially for mobile devices like laptops and mobile phones, because when you move your phone you need to immediately redirect the signal "beam" towards the transmitter / receiver. If you miss, you lose your signal. Not only that, calculating the direction of the beam and requires you to regulate frequency and intensity of hundreds of the transmitters on the phased array, this calculation will create a superposition of waves in one direction and cancellation of the waves in the other in the other directions. Hence a "beam" in one direction. The calculation of direction of the "beam" is computationally intensive, but I presume it could be optimised using a lot of hard coding.

Antennas Aren't The Issue (0, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41098025)

Antennas are not the issue with satellite communications. We already have sat phones with internal antennas that are perfectly capable of making unstable calls on the fly, as it were.

The issue is COST! If you think cell phone companies over charge for calling or, more importantly data, then you've got a really rude awakening coming form satellite providers. Low bandwidth data connections cost a metric shit tonne.

Also, OMFG latency(lag)!

Re:Antennas Aren't The Issue (3, Interesting)

snowraver1 (1052510) | about a year and a half ago | (#41098247)

That's not entirely true... Your sat phone connects to Iridium satellites, whick, IIRC site at about 450 km about earth. These satellites have low data capacity, and are generally not suitable for data.

For data, you need to go all the way out to Geo Sync, something like 65,000 km out there, so a bit further. We use self-aligning dishes to lock on to the sat, and they are a major pain in the ass. Any time there is a power inturruption, there is a good chance they lose their link. Then I have to arrange for some cook, or janitor to go out there and try and fix the thing. It's frustrating.

Needless to say, I am very interested in one of these.

Re:Antennas Aren't The Issue (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41098613)

That's not entirely true... Your sat phone connects to Iridium satellites, whick, IIRC site at about 450 km about earth. These satellites have low data capacity, and are generally not suitable for data.

    For data, you need to go all the way out to Geo Sync, something like 65,000 km out there, so a bit further.

We use self-aligning dishes to lock on to the sat, and they are a major pain in the ass. Any time there is a power inturruption, there is a good chance they lose their link. Then I have to arrange for some cook, or janitor to go out there and try and fix the thing. It's frustrating.

Needless to say, I am very interested in one of these.

Perhaps you should look at a better dish. The self aligning one's I've used on boats, rocking and rolling twisting and turning, have been just fine. But the bill, OMFG the bill at the end of the month is... LOST CARRIER

Re:Antennas Aren't The Issue (2)

Lumpy (12016) | about a year and a half ago | (#41098879)

Mine is $99 a month. what are you over paying for? you dont need more than the entry level data package for a part time vacation RV or Yacht. Sounds like someone sold you a overpriced plan.

Re:Antennas Aren't The Issue (1)

rjr162 (69736) | about a year and a half ago | (#41102199)

Yup... I've installed quite a few tracvision units on rvs and campers. Typically don't take more than a minute or two for initial lock + dish or direct to acquire the signal and produce video + audio

Re:Antennas Aren't The Issue (1)

Lumpy (12016) | about a year and a half ago | (#41098861)

"Any time there is a power inturruption, there is a good chance they lose their link." Only if the person that installed and maintained it is a moron. They will operate for DAYS on a UPS backup. and they are not a pain at all if they lose position, all you do it power it back up and in 3 minutes it has locked back on the bird and is functioning.

Re:Antennas Aren't The Issue (2)

Obfuscant (592200) | about a year and a half ago | (#41099111)

We use self-aligning dishes to lock on to the sat, and they are a major pain in the ass. Any time there is a power inturruption, there is a good chance they lose their link.

We've got one of these for emergency communications in the county. It's a ... let's be charitable and say "pain".

First, the elevation from around here to geosynchronous sats is right through the local treeline. And we have trees around here. Then you need to know that the firmware and sat data needs to be updated often, which requires someone to go out and fire up the sat dish about once a month.

They are cool, though. The first time I ever fired it up, it sat waiting for GPS lock. Once it had that, it poked its little head up and started sweeping the sky looking for the satellite. It got 1/4 of the way around and started fine tuning. Did I mention, it was pointing NORTH when it started fine adjustments? It did that for 15 minutes and then went back to home position, and did it again. Pointing NORTH. Did I mention, I'm in the northern hemisphere? As in, all the geosync sats are SOUTH from here.

Well, we had parked the sat dish next to a large metal pole building, and it was, of course, sensing the reflection off the wall. It wasn't smart enough to think, hmm, maybe since I can't get lock here I'm actually pointing the wrong way and I should seek a global maximum in signal and not the local maximum I've found. And apparently the controller doesn't have a built in compass (which just about every smartphone made today does, using a $5 chip) to know LOOK OVER THERE, MORON.

Not impressive.

What's even funnier is the next time we had it out for training. Someone flipped the circuit breaker by accident and the sat controller lost its configuration, which actually included information about how much current it was supposed to use to drive the motors to point the dish. Since the dish was UP at the time, and the controller would no longer send enough current to the motors to actually make them do anything, the dish could not be stowed. It had to be forced back so something close to down so it could be driven back to the barn overnight, and then 45 minutes the next day to the sat dish repairman. That was a hoot.

We got this because the local hospital chain got a bunch of them for their emergency comms. The hospital has since dumped them because they were such a pain to keep running.

Re:Antennas Aren't The Issue (2)

Lumpy (12016) | about a year and a half ago | (#41098825)

You can get Geosyncronous data connections now for $99 a month. Absolute dirt cheap for what it is. Outfitting an RV with a tracking dish is not hard nor expensive, less than $560.00 to give you Heughes Net anywhere your RV goes.

The problem is in that the birds in the sky are low power and outdated horribly. This new antenna design will do nothing to fix the fact that there is nothing to receive.

For the masses? (3, Interesting)

element-o.p. (939033) | about a year and a half ago | (#41098221)

From TFS:

IMHO, these antennas may be as big a leap for mobile computing and remote communications as the invention of fractal antennas was for mobile phones.

I suspect not, actually.

There are certainly cases where this could be a useful technology, especially in rural or remote areas. I happen to live in a state (Alaska) that has far more area NOT covered by cellular or WiFi hot spots than IS covered by them, so I can certainly see niche use-cases for this tech. Yet I'm still skeptical that this is going to be a game-changer for mobile computing.

I rather suspect the author of TFS has never actually *USED* satellite links for any kind of Internet activity. About two years ago, the company I work for used satellite Internet to connect to a number of remote field sites. As a network administrator, I got the dubious pleasure (hah!) of trying to maintain routers, switches and even a couple of servers on the far side of that satellite link. CLI connections, like SSH, were slow...sometimes painfully so. GUI connections, like remote desktop or VNC required large doses of valium to even be tolerable (I kid, but not by much). Just to show that I'm not a high-bandwidth prima donna, I was using -- and reasonably happy with -- a 768k x 320k DSL line for my home Internet connection at the time.

Trust me -- if you have 3G, 4G or WiFi connectivity, I guarantee you will use it rather than satellite Internet. You won't save money by using satellite, and you will be very, very disappointed with your throughput.

Re:For the masses? (1)

BaldingByMicrosoft (585534) | about a year and a half ago | (#41099165)

I've been very disappointed with 3G and 4G connectivity in many places... Even with excellent radio signal, I've had similar experiences trying to perform remote administration. Congestion on cellular can be crazy these days. A 1G link without congestion would be preferable to this...

There are locations that my employer is considering having a point-of-presence with a need for access to email and a couple of Citrix XenApp applications. The only thing apparently available is satellite, and I loathe the thought...

Re:For the masses? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41099425)

if you have 3G, 4G or WiFi connectivity, I guarantee you will use it rather than satellite Internet

The AC living in the sticks begs to differ. Compare:
- 3G: 150ms pings, 80KB/s downloads
- 2G: 700ms pings ,10KB/s downloads
- Satellite: 650ms pings, 1MB/s downloads

On good days, the 3G may top out at 120KB/s. However, it frequently drops down to 2G. If I could get a consistent 3G signal I would be happy. A booster will not help in this case ... its Verizon's towers being oversaturated. My experience may be atypical, however, I disagree with your "guarantee". Satellite has worked out a lot better for us.

Re:For the masses? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41100445)

I am reasonably happy with my ViaSat internet connection. 4mbit down, 512k up and about 600ms ping to pretty much anywhere.

All on a 12 inch dish.

Re:For the masses? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41105403)

I rather suspect the author of TFS has never actually *USED* satellite links for any kind of Internet activity. ...

TFS agrees: it's bad. He has wireline InterWebZ via U-verse and uses terrestrial networking in suburban L.A.

TFS did, however, sit through a fascinating tech talk from Row 44 [row44.com] about this very problem at his local IEEE CommSoc chapter about a 18 months ago (which of course makes him a deep expert despite his degrees in other fields). Row 44's uplink deploys a moving (azimuth+elevation) antenna mounted atop an aircraft's fuselage under a plastic dome. The dome has aerodynamic drag that costs fuel, the mechanical parts require service, and the driver hardware and electronics take up space in those oh-so-precious overhead bins.

The most upsetting part, however, was learning that punching a hole in the plane and building a support plate for the antenna system was less of a problem than the dynamic stress loads placed on airframes from all the heavy baggage jammed into overhead bins. Apparently, the top part of the plane undergoes some nasty flexing b/c passengers hate waiting for their luggage [wikipedia.org] . Consequently, a lightweight metamaterial-based phased-array antenna glued onto the roof seems like a pretty nifty idea.

Re:For the masses? (1)

finity (535067) | about a year and a half ago | (#41132375)

Well, if you were talking to a geosat satellite, those are way out there in orbit. Fast electrically steerable antennas may allow comms with low earth orbit satellites, which would lower latency.

Neat but will not deliver anything to the "masses" (2)

Lumpy (12016) | about a year and a half ago | (#41098797)

Ham radio operators have been working satellites for decades with cheap TV antenna rotors. you can EASILY build an X/Y tracker out of two used antenna rotors and build the simple Helical antennas and talk to the guys on the ISS or work several of the ham radio satellites that are up in the sky and have been there for a long time now.

This antenna tech is neat, but it's not going to make any differences. Mobile computing will stay terrestrial or Geosync. Having owned and used an iridium phone, you do not need a special tracking antenna to have phone service anywhere on the planet, what you need is for the craptastic satellites to be replaced with something that can handle more than 56K of bandwidth per connection.

Re:Neat but will not deliver anything to the "mass (1)

Obfuscant (592200) | about a year and a half ago | (#41101279)

This antenna tech is neat, but it's not going to make any differences. Mobile computing will stay terrestrial or Geosync. Having owned and used an iridium phone, you do not need a special tracking antenna to have phone service anywhere on the planet, what you need is for the craptastic satellites to be replaced with something that can handle more than 56K of bandwidth per connection.

There is a significant difference between using a pair of ten pound rotators to follow a satellite in a known orbit from a fixed loclation, and trying to follow a fixed satellite from a moving platform. One allows for pre-calculation of the aim; the other requires constant adjustment and fast reaction.

Part of the issue of the "craptastic" sattelites is that the bandwidth you can get over a radio link depends on the noise on that link. You might notice that the high-bandwidth connections use something larger than an Iridium phone antenna. And no, you can't just move the antenna up to the satellite end of the system because the more directional the antenna up there, the smaller the footprint it can cover.

Re:Neat but will not deliver anything to the "mass (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41102659)

Nice try. How about that the iridium birds are 25 years old...

Replace them with current tech and you can get 3G speeds from them.

Re:Neat but will not deliver anything to the "mass (1)

petermgreen (876956) | about a year and a half ago | (#41102841)

And no, you can't just move the antenna up to the satellite end of the system because the more directional the antenna up there, the smaller the footprint it can cover.

What some operators have started doing is putting phases arrays on the sattelites allowing them to produce loads of narrow beams. This both improves the radio performance of the link to any individual user and allows frequency reuse across the sattelites footprint.

Wrong end (1)

Spazmania (174582) | about a year and a half ago | (#41099189)

This works the problem from the wrong end. Are they going to invent FTL communications too in order to deal with speed of light lag over the 22,000 miles out to geostationary orbit?

If you want decent 2-way satellite communications (i.e. Internet via satellite) the way to do it is with a low earth orbit constellation. If you're only shooting a few hundred miles your antenna problems basically go away: 10 watts and a 120 degree beam get you there. Better: you don't compete for bandwidth with the rest of the continent. The satellite you're talking to at the moment only serves a thousand mile radius. And 500 miles away doesn't create a speed of light lag that prevents you from using online gaming and other low-latency apps.

Nice. Useful for radar, too. (2)

Animats (122034) | about a year and a half ago | (#41099557)

This is actually rather neat. It's a steerable phased array antenna without the phase shifters or delay lines.

If this technology could be adapted to millimeter and submillimeter radar for automotive collision avoidance, it could accelerate the adoption of automatic driving technology. This is a technology that allows conformal antennas, so antennas can be placed behind plastic body parts. For automatic driving to be acceptable automotive design, the sensor suite has to be almost invisible. The Velodyne rotating scanner on the roof is not going to be acceptable. But if the forward looking long range gear was behind the rear view mirror, and the side and rear looking sensors were conformal arrays under body panels, the technology would be almost invisible.

Meanwhile, the technology can be used to replace those mechanically steered TV satellite dishes found on top of RVs.

Re:Nice. Useful for radar, too. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#41108245)

If they are steerable beams, could you create a radar? How about a virtual radome for a marine radar? Put one antenna on each side, and at the stern. The whole thing might have the angular resolution of an antenna >8 ft wide, versus the 2 ft to 18 inches common today. Besides, it would be all electronic and might therefore be more reliable..

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