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Israeli startup the dark horse in the race to provide global internet coverage

Israel, the global capital of successful startups, has come up with a solution for cheap access to the internet worldwide. It could revolutionize satellite communication technology, provide cheap access to the internet to the remotest corners of the world. The next 18 months will be crucial for the Israeli startup.

An Israeli startup, Skyfi, is racing to outflank Google and Facebook in providing cheap access to the internet for worldwide access by developing the world’s first self-correcting antenna which can capitalise on the signals provided by mini-satellites and turn them into powerful transmitters covering the entire globe.

Google has taken a different route to the problem and it plans on increasing internet access throughout the globe, including remote areas by means of high-flying balloons. Facebook on the other hand has a more complex system in mind and is looking at an integration of drone and increased dependence on complex satellite communication technology.

As per Raz Itzhaki Tamir, a veteran of Israel's aerospace industry who co-founded Skyfi four years ago, it will take a cluster of 60 nano-satellites, with each measuring around the size of a shoe, to provide internet access throughout the world.

Tamir’s visision for worldwide internet access rests on these shoe sized nano-satellites deploying their antennas in space and mechanically re-adjusting themselves to overcome the limitations of the ground-based transmitter. These satellites should even be able to alter the direction their antennas are pointing at in order to tackle possible broadcasting related issues in the course of the satellite’s life.

Although this sounds simple enough, these two issues have acted as Himalayan hurdles in the past and have limited the efficacy of a satellite.

Skifie has disclosed that it has a "proof of concept" in its hand, however, don’t expect a fleet of these shoe-sized satellites for at least a couple of more years. If the antennae functions as it should, it is likely to attract big business.

With thousands of new satellites expected to be launched in the coming decade, Israel, with its expertise in miniaturization and given its military bent of mind, is likely to capture a sizeable chunk of the booming commercial space market.

In its latest funding round, Skyfi has successfully raised $3 million thanks to Jerusalem Venture Partners, one of Israel’s most successful venture capital funds. It has now signed letters of intent so as to sell its antenna’s to global players such as Spacecom and Lockheed Martin.

Significantly, Facebook is collaborating with Spacecom in order to increase access to the internet in Africa. If Skyfie’s antennas are successful, their demand is likely to surge.

"This type of solution will conquer the market, because it addresses some of the most serious and bothersome issues for satellite operators," said David Pollack, CEO of Spacecom.

Skifie is now in the process of fine tuning a larger version of its antennas in a soundproof chamber, which mimics the condition of space, measuring 50-square-meter. In the next 18 months, Skyfie plans on launching the first batch of its satellites in space.

"Currently, if an antenna is not perfect, you have to live with it, with the losses. We can change that and be flexible, thus gaining more revenue from the satellite," said Tamir.

Debashish Mukherjee

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