Published On: Thu, Jan 15th, 2015

Startup Artemis May Have Solution for Inevitable Wireless ‘Spectrum Crunch’

Steve Perlman / Getty

Steve Perlman, founder of the wireless tech company Artemis Networks, thinks he has a way to deal with the rapid depletion of the wireless spectrum, or the airwaves used to transmit data to and from our various devices, a report said.

Perlman’s company invented something it calls “pCell.” PCell essentially allows cellular devices to get more use out of spectrum by creating tiny individual networks for each mobile device that overlap with one another. It would use the same spectrum as today’s cell towers, just allocated differently, Business Insider said.

PCell does this through devices called pWaves — think of them as cell towers that are about the same size as a wireless router. But the way pWaves and cell towers actually emit radio waves is very different. In fact, they are opposite. Cell towers are spaced far enough apart so that their signals can cover large areas without interfering with one another, the website said.

Artemis’ technology, rather, takes advantage of colliding radio waves with pCell. Because the pWaves are so small, they can be placed practically anywhere, unlike cell towers. The idea is that numerous pWaves could be placed around cities to blanket an area more accurately than can traditional towers, the report said.

If pCell is adopted, Perlman says, we’ll see data speeds that are lightning fast compared with what we are used to today. PCell works with existing LTE and Wi-Fi, so it would be compatible with smartphones already on the market, according to Business Insider.

The idea that our spectrum supply is running short is part of a debate that has been flaring on and off throughout the tech world over the past several years. The imminent “spectrum crunch” has been reported on as far back as 2008, the report said.

What is clear, however, is that we will indeed run out of spectrum at some point — we just don’t know when. And once we run out, there’s no way to create more. Perlman says he believes we have three years before we completely run out of the type of spectrum used by mobile devices, the website said.

“Trying to keep up with the demand for bandwidth is the terrifying part, ” Jack Plunkett, CEO of the technology industry research firm Plunkett Research, told Business Insider. “The real question is how to technologies make better use of that spectrum.”

“The only reason the whole thing hasn’t broken down completely at this point is because a lot of data traffic is on Wi-Fi, ” Plunkett said. “Otherwise, you wouldn’t even be able to get a call through anywhere. It’s that serious.”

Artemis is now testing its pCell network in San Francisco, but there is no telling when the technology would roll out broadly. It could take a while because Perlman would have to coerce all of the major wireless carriers to back his startup to get pCell to work in the intended way, the website said.

Plunkett thinks pCell or some similar alternative will be widely deployed within the next 10 years, according to Business Insider.

“It’s absolutely going to happen, whether it’s pCell or Cisco or Qualcomm, ” he said. “Somebody’s going to come up with phenomenal improvements in the way we do this, and it won’t be that long.”

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