4G is Nothing Next to “Mobile Fiber”
We’ve talked about small cell technology before, and how it could potentially change the wireless landscape, but newcomer Artemis’ pCell (short for “personal cell”) takes the cake. Promising speeds up to 1000x faster than 4G, mobile coverage areas, reduced infrastructure costs, and even longer battery life for your phone, it sounds like the Holy Grail of small cells.
Inventor Steve Perlman, whose fingerprints can be found everywhere from your iPhone to your XBox 360 and even Brad Pitt’s face, has been developing pCell technology for a decade. Originally known as DIDO (Distributed-Input, Distributed-Output), pCell takes the current model of shared cellular signal and turns it on its head. “It’s a complete rewrite of the wireless rulebook,” says Perlman. “Since the invention of wireless, people have moved around the coverage area. Now, the coverage area follows you.”
In our current system, a network of carefully spaced cell towers creates large, overlapping bubbles of broadband coverage. Users share those signal bubbles–everybody gets some bandwidth, as long as there aren’t too many users. The concept of pCell, on the other hand, is to create individual bubbles or cells for each user–so everyone gets full signal strength, regardless of the people around them. And while interference can be a huge issue for cell towers that are too close together, pCell units (called “pWaves”) thrive on it; they use each other’s interference to boost their broadcast strength. Perlman compares it to waves adding to each other to form mighty breakers.
The pWave units themselves don’t appear very impressive; each one is smaller than a dinner plate and draws on just 1 milliwatt of power, compared to the 250 milliwatts of a cell tower. They do need to be deployed in greater quantity, but since they don’t require extensive fiber optic networks, they would still be cheaper for carriers to implement. And, what makes this more than a pipe dream is the fact that pWaves are compatible with existing cellular phones, and are capable of seamless handoff with existing cell networks. Eventually, there will be “pCell native” phones that are truly optimized for the technology, but in the meantime you can take advantage of it with the phone you’ve already got.
The initial pCell rollout is happening in San Francisco, as Artemis deploys 350 pWave units throughout the city for maximum coverage. If all goes well, they expect a full consumer launch in the fourth quarter of 2014, so hopefully it won’t be long until we can all try it for ourselves.