Artemis' pCell offers personal cell for every device, promises dramatic LTE capacity increase
San Francisco startup Artemis Networks today unveiled its pCell technology, which takes the counter-intuitive tack of using interference to create an independent channel that is unique to each LTE-based mobile device and delivers full wireless capacity, rather than shared capacity, simultaneously to every device.
"From your phone's point of view, it's always in the same cell, the same eNodeB," Steve Perlman, Artemis' founder and CEO, said in an interview with FierceWirelessTech. "The phones always have five bars, if you will, and they always have the maximum data rate wherever you are."
The approach actually relies upon interference to combine transmitted radio signals from multiple pCell base stations--called pWaves--and then synthesize cells of wireless energy that follow each mobile device around.
Perlman's vision for the wireless future was publicly exposed back in 2011, when a Businessweek article highlighted his plans for distributed-input-distributed-output (DIDO), which forms the foundation for pCell. At the time, Perlman's Rearden Companies technology incubator, which has funded pCell development, issued a white paper about this unique approach to wireless service.
Last May, Rearden filed an application for an experimental license to test something--apparently DIDO--using 2573-2583 MHz spectrum. Those frequencies, engineer Steven Crowley noted last summer on his blog, were licensed to Clearwire, which is now part of Sprint (NYSE:S).
Perlman told FierceWirelessTech that Artemis' pCell (the "p" stands for "personal") technology is being trialed by unspecified partners in San Francisco and will be ready for the first commercial deployment in one market at the end of this year. Perlman declined to confirm or deny whether Artemis is collaborating with Clearwire, saying he has a non-disclosure agreement with Artemis' trial partners.
Artemis plans to license pCell to wireless carriers and ISPs.
Perlman said Artemis intends to license pCell to wireless carriers and independent Internet service providers for deployment worldwide. Perlman noted pCell requires no modification of customer devices.
Artemis' technology is aimed at helping wireless operators--both mobile and fixed--deal with the growing tsumani of data traffic engulfing their networks. Cisco's most recent predictions regarding mobile data traffic in North America indicate that average monthly consumption per user will reach 8.99 GB per month in 2018, while the global average will be 3.05 GB per month that same year.
Perlman's longtime friend, former Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) CEO John Sculley, compared pCell's potential impact to that of the original Macintosh computer. The pCell system, he said, "is an authentic 'moon shot' disruptive invention, one of those rare but extraordinary moments when what previously seemed improbable in science becomes possible."
Artemis' diminutive pWave radios can be placed anywhere without the need for cell planning. "We call it 'serendipitous deployment,'" Perlman said, because the radios can be located wherever backhaul, site leases and/or zoning are the most beneficial.
The pWaves are deployed via a cloud RAN (c-RAN) architecture, with IP fronthaul to each radio head. All calculations needed to create the pCells are done in a data center.
The entire system is software-defined radio. "The wave forms that go out over the fronthaul through the pWaves are calculated on dual-core Intel motherboards running Linux. It's all our own software," Perlman said.
The technology works in all mobile bands, as well as in unlicensed spectrum, such as 900 MHz in the Americas. "We can deploy LTE in unlicensed spectrum," Perlman said, which could potentially open up the pCell system for use by U.S. cable operators seeking to compete with mobile operators, since standard cellular handsets already support 900 MHz for roaming because that band is licensed for cellular in Europe.
Where pCell technology is not yet deployed, a pCell can hand off to the conventional cellular network, but there are no handoffs within the pCell system.
"There are no cell edges, so we don't have the signal degrade at a certain point. Every user's experience is as if they were at the center of the cell," Perlman said. "There is a small amount of cooperation along the edges, but it's still the case that everyone has a personal cell that is continuous."
Added Perlman: "If you were to drive from San Francisco to L.A., you would go from one data center to another. But from your phone's point of view, it would always have its own little cell with 100 percent data rate."