Credit: C-Com

SINGAPORE —C-Com Satellite Systems Inc. drew a roadmap for its patented flat-panel, electronically steered, phased-array antenna that starts with an August test with Telesat’s LEO satellite and ends in late 2020 with a commercial product priced at around $20,000.

That $20,000 product would replace C-Com’s current 75-cm parabolic Ka-band antenna.

Outlining the company’s flat-panel progress at the ConnecTech Asia show here June 20, C-Com Vice President Drew Klein said $20,000 is still too costly for many promising applications with low-orbiting satellite constellations. But it’s a start.

“If we can get to that price with a flat-panel, electronically steerable product, it will cause a real shift in the market,” Klein said. Once we’re there, we can reduce the cost of the chips and that’s when the market can really take off.

Klein said the $20,000 price tag assumes a production run of 1,000 units or less.

“We’re shipping 1,000 units a year right nowise for us it’s not a huge number to get to that price point.”

Canada-based C-Com’s shares are traded on the Toronto Stock Exchange, which means the company has an obligation not to oversell its product status.

“We can’t just go out and say crazy stuff,” Klein said. “We need to at least tell you what we’re targeting so that our customer base can know what’s coming.”

Figures are in Canadian dollars. Credit: C-Com

C-Com is profitable and has reported substantial increases in revenue and profit in the past two years. It has sold more than 8,000 antenna systems, both fixed and mobile, worldwide.

Its most recent sale, valued at $4 million, is for 100 1-meter man-pack antennas and fixed motorized antennas to the Japanese government.

The company has provided product to many of the biggest names in the commercial satellite sector, including satellite operators Avanti, Eutelsat, Hispasat Hughes Network Systems, Optus, Telenor and Viasat.

C-Com came through the downturn in the oil and gas market in 2016 in apparently a stronger market position than before the slump. In its 2018 annual report, it told investors: Some competitors who suffered during the lead years of 2016 are no longer around. Others are looking for buyers to exit the marketplace.”

C-Com’s current core product is the iNetVu mobile antenna line, which the company advertises as the first one-button, auto-acquisition antenna.

Much of the satellite sector’s attention is now focused on the multiple constellations of low-orbit satellites for broadband connectivity that are being developed. Some of these constellations target corporate markets and specialized verticals such as maritime and aeronautical applications.

Telesat Canada’s LEO is one of these. A demonstration satellite is in orbit and has been used to test various ground technologies in advance of the launch of the full constellation.

Telesat has made no public announcements of any technology partners, or whether its partners would be expected to invest in the project in exchange for a contract.

Credit: C-Com

Other broadband constellations, including OneWeb, SpaceX’s Starlink and Amazon’s Project Kuiper, are aiming at a broad consumer market where a low-cost, flat-panel antenna that can track multiple satellites as they pass overhead is viewed as crucial.

Klein did not dispute this.

“While we will not be able to meet the exact gain and efficiency of a parabolic antenna, the cost, the lack of moving parts, the steerability and modularity of these antennas will have the potential to revolutionize this market. There are some systems in the market already that are not quite doing what we’re hoping to do.”

The Telesat trial, he said, “will be the groundbreaker for us and allow us to confirm that our Tx and Rx core module, and the modular size of the antenna, is working. From there, it’s the equivalent of a 25-cm antenna — we’re not going to close any loops on commercial satellites. But the nexts step is a 65-cm Ka-band equivalent system. Should that work, we’ll have a system that can close the loop  on most Ka-band satellites.”