Satellite antenna builder Kymeta announced Tuesday that it closed a significant new round of fundraising led by Bill Gates, as the start-up looks to increase manufacturing and sales of its mobile communications product.
“At the end of the day, the problem that our customers want to solve is highly reliable broadband service,” Kymeta executive chairman Doug Hutcheson told CNBC.
Kymeta raised $85.2 million in this latest round, with Gates himself making up $78.5 million of that. The company has now raised about $300 million in cumulative funding since its founding in 2012, with investment from Lux Capital, Intelsat, Liberty Global and others.
The company’s core product is its “electronically steered” flat satellite antenna, built to replace the dish technology that track moving satellites but also capable of connecting with cellular networks. It looks to fill a gap in connecting satellite networks to the ground, as Kymeta says other antenna aren’t durable enough to support mobility.
Kymeta’s latest antenna is the u8 terminal, which it is beginning a beta trial for this month and aiming to launch to market before the end of this year. Hutcheson described the u8 terminal as a “transformational” product for the communications industry. He says it is the only one of its kind and capable of connecting with a wide variety of satellites – from the likes of ViaSat’s in the distant geosynchronous orbit to the much closer and smaller SpaceX Starlink satellites in low Earth orbit.
“The technology works to provide satellite communications with no moving parts because of the flat panel and it is very robust. It could take hundreds of G’s of force, if a vehicle rolled over, or take extreme conditions and just keep working,” Hutcheson said.
A closer look at the u8 flat panel satellite antenna.
Kymeta’s two target industries are defense and first responders, with the former making up all the customers participating in its beta testing program. The company declined to disclose further specifics on the customers, citing confidential agreements with the U.S. Department of Defense.
The Redmond, Washington based company also earlier this month acquired Lepton Global Solutions, a satellite communications network that Kymeta says will further improve the connectivity of its service. Kymeta has nearly 200 employees and expects that headcount to steadily grow in the next year.
Gates invested in Kymeta in 2016, with Hutcheson describing him as a “patient investor.”
“I think Bill believes that we have the right technology that that has been developed now to the point where it is ready to change how people think and use this type of communications,” Hutcheson said.
“There’s no one right now that is close to where this company is in the quality of the product and the capability that it has and the ease of use,” Hutcheson added.
The average retail price of a Kymeta antenna is about $23,000, but the company also offers its Kymeta Connect option for a monthly fee that includes the hardware, software and connectivity services.
Kymeta kept working through the coronavirus pandemic to get its beta units out into customers hands.
“We have 70 customers that requested to use the units, against the availability of 23 units, so the excitement around it is palpable,” Hutcheson said.
As for how the latest influx of funding will be used, Hutcheson plans to build up Kymeta’s production and sales capacity in the coming year. He estimated that the space industry builds about 20,000 new satellite antennas per year.
The goal in the next year or two is to produce “thousands of terminals a year,” Hutcheson said.
Kymeta aims to further up that production to “tens of thousands of terminals” as early as 2023, he added – with a caveat.
“We’ve got to figure out how to scale manufacturing and build a supply chain, so there is a lot of work to do to become capable of supplying larger volumes,” Hutcheson said. “We’re very pragmatic but the opportunity to scale from thousands of units in the next year to larger numbers is truly there.”
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