Here's the Device That Could Make Airplane Wi-Fi Not Awful
Business travelers, social media addicts, and email obsessives, rejoice! Kymeta—a communications company based in Redmond, Washington—has developed a pizza-shaped device to make in-flight Wi-Fi much, much faster. Coming in between 20 and 40 inches in diameter, and less than half-an-inch thick, the so-called mTenna would be an improvement over the bulkier designs currently used on planes, which are better known for creating drag and eating up fuel than, say, feeding a passenger’s Instagram habit.
In-flight Wi-Fi connections currently clock in around 3 GHz at their best, which is a decent speed until you think of all the people tuning into the same connection at the same time. The hope is that mTenna’s dish design will utilize a higher radio frequency. (Side note: The higher the frequency, the less “noise,” or use, there is.)
So why haven’t we been reaching for these higher frequencies all along? Today’s antennas are designed to move as the plane travels in order to keep their Wi-Fi connection, which means the devices require heavy weather-protective coatings and a wide adjustment range. This is where the mTenna comes out on top: Kymeta’s design doesn’t have to adjust to keep its connection. The device is reconfigured electronically to point at the satellite delivering the connection all throughout the flight, putting less focus on making sure the device is positioned correctly and more on quality connection.
It gets better: The antenna runs off of very little power and,thanks to its size, cuts fuel use compared to current designs. On paper, it seems like it would please even the most dollar-sensitive of airlines.
Unfortunately, we’re going to have to wait a few years (three to five, according to Wired) before we can expect to see something like this on our flights. Kymeta is currently working with Honeywell and British satellite telecommunications company Inmarsat to manufacture the device.
Erika Owen is the Audience Engagement Editor at T+L. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram at @erikaraeowen.