RaySat Avoids Repeating Mistakes with New Mobile TV Antenna
[Satellite News 12-05-08] In developing a satellite antenna enabling vehicles to receive the new mobile AT&T CruiseCast TV service, RaySat had to overcome several problems that plagued some of its earlier product models, CEO Yoel Gat told Satellite News.
“We learned the hard way when we manufactured the KVH [TracVision] A5 and A7 antennas,” said Gat. “Even though we sold a lot of them, we realized those products had many limitations. It was too large and not many people were willing to put it on their car. It was also very expensive — at $3,000 — during its release, but the biggest downside for the product was its line-of-sight issues. Every time you passed a high-rise building or drove through a tunnel you lost the signal. Word of mouth spread customer disappointment with the antennas.”
RaySat went back to the drawing board to figure out how to avoid repeating past mistakes, and the outcome is RaySat’s T7 mobile TV antenna, set for commercial rollout in March. CruiseCast is looking to compete with Sirius XM’s Backseat TV service, offering launching 22 video and 20 audio channels at speeds between 500 and 600 kilobits per second.
“The first thing we needed to do when developing the T7 was make the antenna smaller, so we scaled it down to 9 inches in diameter by 4 inches high,” said Gat. “Then we needed to lower the price. The plan was to launch with a price of $1,299.”
To achieve this, RaySat looked to Ku-band capacity and inclined orbit capacity. “It’s simple economics,” said Gat. “With Ku-band and inclined orbit capacity, we can increase the service with more channels with no limitations in regards to bandwidth resources. We use plenty of transponders. The whole system can easily move from satellite to satellite, which makes it very friendly to other operators. All of these factors make it much cheaper.”
To solve the line-of-sight issues, RaySat borrowed an idea often seen on Internet video platforms. “We developed a system that we call ‘blockage protection.’ In essence, we’ve created a small, three-minute buffer for the signal. As long as you have reception for one minute out of every three minute window, you will get uninterrupted video,” said Gat, who added that this was the only part of the development process that involved a subcontractor
The upcoming release presents new challenges as well. Even at a lower price, would consumers be willing to pay $1,299 for a satellite antenna in a restricted economic climate, and will the downturn in the automobile industry stunt T7 sales? Gat believes that while the timing of the release may not be perfect, his research yields optimistic results, especially when his target market is high-end SUVs and minivans. “When people spend less money on their cars, they spend more on accessories. There are still 12.5 million to 13 million cars being sold in 2008, a figure which, even though much less than the 15.5 million sold in 2007, is still a significant number, and a large portion of those are $30,000 to $50,000 vehicles,” said Gat. “Our target audience is families with children. A lot of the content is skewed towards children, and we have a lot of other programming as well. We already have had hundreds of test units operational for many, many months. We got very good feedback from the user experience surveys.”
RaySat initially is launching the T7 in the aftermarket, but according to Gat, the company has had discussions with car manufacturers. “For now, you can get it through two different tiers of distribution. When you go to buy your new car, you will be able to get both the product and the service through your car dealer and it can be branded to the leasing your car,” he said.