December 24th, 2005


Rolling Hotspots (satellite internet)

ROLLING HOTSPOTS. Satellite TV's rebuttal to cable in the car is: "Why rely on external WiFi hotspots when you can be one?" Samer Salameh, president and CEO of RaySat Inc. (; Vienna, VA) says his company's vehicle-mounted satellite antennas can transform cars into "rolling hotspots," capable of receiving both real-time satellite TV broadcasts and broadband Internet access. RaySat's antennas use essentially the same phased-array technology found in the huge domes that grace the tops of many RVs, but its debut model, SpeedRay 3000, is only 5-in. thick and can be mounted to the roof rails of an SUV or minivan. This is hardly an earthshaking achievement since competitors like KVH Industries, Inc. (; Middletown, RI) already sell similarly sized units. What is noteworthy is that the SpeedRay will include a transmitter for real-time satellite-linked Internet sessions (with download speeds of 2mbps and upload speeds up to 128 mbps) linked to a WiFi node that broadcasts the satellite connection throughout the car. Samer explains that RaySat achieves this first by converting one of the four moving panels sealed inside the antenna that track and receive satellite signals into a transmitter. Priced at $3,495 plus monthly satellite subscription fees, the SpeedRay will occupy a specialty niche inhabited by those who can't bear the information disconnect a long drive represents. But Samer is looking ahead to smaller and cheaper units. The company has already developed a prototype for a sleek 2-in. thick antenna dubbed StealthRay that it plans to put in production in 2006. "In 2007 I want to have a sub-1 in. antenna that can be installed by the OEM in the factory," says Samer, who reckons that a factory-installed unit could go for $2,000 or less and sell well over a million copies a year. But technological hurdles may slow that plan, because to achieve a thinner antenna the complex belt and gear system that now positions the tracking panels must be replaced by a solid-state setup that tracks satellite signals electromagnetically. RaySat has been able to eliminate some mechanical parts in the StealthRay prototype, but Samer acknowledges, "We need to have a breakthrough to get to 1 in." (Delphi is also working on satellite antennas for the car. See: