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A couple of months ago Steve Perlman issued some youTube videos demonstrating pCells, his latest form of networking invention, one that he claims may one day soon have the potential to seriously disrupt the mobile phone industry. At the time he was hoping to establish some networking trials between his company Artemis Networks and a major industry participant int order to, essentially, prove the concept out.
Now it turns out that he may be on his way to doing just that, with some very impressive sleuthing just carried out by tech site Business Insider, who have unearthed on their own, or were pointed towards, an approved FCC application for some significant equipment trials by Artemis to be held across the city of San Francisco in the next fourteen months.
It also seems, according to Business Insider, that the spectrum for the trials is within the range of spectrum acquired by satellite video operator Dish Networks. In the last couple of years Dish been on something of a shopping spree buying up additional spectrum for possible future ground-based applications, possibly including mobile telephony.
Accordingly, putting two and two together, this test could provide the proof of concept for his new pCell venture that Perlman needs before he can build it into a new business.
Steve Perlman is a long time, tech industry, very serious inventor type, who has made a number of important waves in the media networking business throughout a long and illustrious career. The first was QuickTime when he worked at Apple, then WebTV which he founded and sold to Microsoft for US$503 million, in 1997, only 18 months after he started it.
Perlman then subsequently created Onlive which was an, innovative, cloud-based gaming solution. Onlive ultimately failed to gain traction in the market place though, in what were still the early days of the cloud, when latency was still a significant issue – and indeed to some extent frankly it still is. Onlive then finally went under in 2012, when not enough customers were sufficiently attracted to it.
Now Perlman is claiming to have solved a huge problem for the cellular phone industry. Using some of his own basic research that went on even before he created Onlive, about how signals propagate and how they can be managed when there are many of them side by side, he is offering the promise of eliminating cellular congestion in crowded cities – both cheaply and effectively. This would of course, if realised, be the holy grail for that industry which struggles with quality the more customers it has in a direct.
Perlman’s new technology is dubbed “pCell”. Its’ goal is to enable mobile data users to enjoy very fast data, and clear voice, connections without congestion, without dead zones, and without weak signals. According to Artemis, pCell, if it works, will make mobile networking seem completely indistinguishable from using a regular high speed fibre optic network.
Regular cellular signals suffer when there are many of them in close proximity, which then degrades the experience for everybody, and does so at an increasing rate the more crowded such a network is.
In contrast, in theory the Artemis pCell finds a way to make competing signals become quite happy to coexist together, without mutual interference. With pCells each phone effectively acts as its own cell, getting signals wherever it is from tens of thousands of very cheap radios that Artemis, or more likely one of its potential mobile service provider customers, would distribute around the city without any special antenna towers being needed.
This would then be backed up by a very expensive data centre in the home office of the mobile service provider, one that uses complicated algorithms to create a bubble around each and every one of the pCells, all in real time, to keep the traffic moving.
Today, when a mobile phone gets multiple signals at once presently it just muddles it up. Perlman’s intuition has been to potentially turn that interference into a virtue, by using the combining property of radio waves to build a signal that always delivers exactly the right message to your iPhone, iPad or other mobile device.
By using multiple, very cheap, local radio transmitters all over the city the goal is to send radio waves that, when they do reach your iPad or iPhone, come from several sources at once then combine to produce a crystal clear signal. With many other devices around such a system then needs to precisely analyze wireless information from all devices in real time, and constantly recalculate the complex combinations of signals from each of the transmitters on the fly.
To process all that at once of course would need some extremely powerful computers in the central office. While this becomes an expensive capital item, but at centralises the issue and converts it to a problem of money instead of the technical problems regular cellular wave propagation inherently have.
On the customer side it is claimed no special hardware is required inside any of the millions of phones or other devices already out there, whether 3G 4G or… whatever, according to Perlman.
So these are major claims that have been made and which will now be put to the test it seems. Neither Dish nor Artemis have commented officially on the Business Insider report, but the FCC approval document certainly has Artemis’ name on it.
About Steve Perlman
Steve Perlman, who is aged 52, grew up in West Hartford Connecticut. From age 10 he attended the Talcott Mountain Academy of Science and Mathematics in Avon, Connecticut. In 1997, Perlman donated $1 million to the school, which responded by naming its library and technology conference center after him.
He built his first computer from a kit during high school in 1976 at Hall High School in West Hartford, where he graduated in 1979. He went on to earn a liberal arts degree from Columbia University in 1983 before heading out to California to seek out his place in the technology world.
After a stint working at Atari, in 1985 he joined Apple as a principal scientist where he developed the enabling technology behind QuickTime, Apple’s proprietary video codec.
Five years later, in 1990 he was part of the group that spun out of Apple to create General Magic, as Managing director for advanced products, where he worked on its system on a chip for the earliest personal digital assistants. There he met up with Andy Rubin who went on to found Android.
Rubin described Perlman in a Business Week interview in 2011 as being consumed by a drive to create breakthrough technology. “I think true visionaries push their employees really hard, ” says Rubin, a close friend of Perlman. “You have to be signed up for a 24 by 7 type of deal. Some people can do it and some can’t.”
Interestingly when 2003, Rubin had run out of money while pursuing some new cellphone software at his own startup Android. “Without flinching, Steve brought over $10, 000 in cash in an envelope, ” Rubin said in the same interview. Perlman declined to take any equity in the company, which would later be acquired by Google and become the basis of its smartphone software empire. “I think he would rather invest in his own ideas, ” Rubin says.
In 1996 Perlman founded WebTV, which he then succeeded in selling to Microsoft a year and a half later in 1997 for US$425 million. Renamed MSNTV Perlman became a divisional President within Microsoft responsible for MSNTV, until 1999 when he left to found his own incubator Reardon. There he developed the technology behind what was to become Onlive and, later still, Artemis itself
Another of Perlman’s Reardon start-ups developed the CGI facial manipulation technology used for a number of Hollywood movies, including the 2008 Oscar winning “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” starring Brad Pitt. In 2011 Perlman announced the establishment of Artemis Networks to develop his current cellular initiative.