If you have flown on a JetBlue flight with live TV, you may have noticed that reception sometimes drops out during turbulence or while making tight turns. This is because the antennas use gimbal mounts to mechanically keep the satellite dish aligned. This is only an annoyance when watching TV, but can lead to dropped data connections and lost web sessions. This week IEEE Spectrum reported Intellectual Ventures Invents Beam-Steering Metamaterials Antenna. Current phased-array electronically steered antennas cost about $1 million each and are very complex. The IV metamaterial antenna would be lower cost, thin and lightweight. This antenna could also have uses for electronic news gathering.
IEEE Fellow Stefan Maci, a professor of electromagnetics at the University of Siena, in Italy, who was not involved in the IV product but is working on a similar metamaterial antenna for the European Space Agency explains in the article, "Using metasurfaces for antennas is very similar to the concept used in cloaking." The article continues, "The subwavelength features of metamaterials produce electromagnetic properties not found in nature, bending optical and radio waves in ways once thought to be impossible. Metamaterial cloaking devices work by refracting light around an object, and the same wave-bending concepts can be used to steer beams from antennas."
Technical details are available on the Intellectual Ventures MSA-T Video Overview web page. A Fact sheet lists the specifications. The antenna offers 1 GHz of bandwidth in Ka-band only (rain fade is not likely to be as much of an issue on aircraft that fly above the clouds) and can provide an EIRP of 43.5 dBW with 4 watts of RF driver. G/T is up to 12.77 dB/K for a 50 cm receive panel. The scan range is +/- 65 degrees from broadside at all azimuths and it can steer at a rate up to 30 degrees per second. It is expected to meet FCC pointing requirements.
As readers know, I've been expecting Ka-band technology to take off as a low cost alternative to the large and expensive Ku-band SNG van for applications where the risk of rain fade is not a problem. This could be the answer. The Intellectual Ventures Fact Sheet describes its "Portable Satellite Hotspot Concept" this way, "Laptop-sized, self-pointing satellite hotspot for remote news gathering, mining, exploration, disaster response, defense, security and other applications where high-speed Internet access is essential." Initial availability is planned for late 2014.