Steve Perlman: Nokia Deal Legitimizes Artemis’ pCell Technology

Plan to deploy pCell in major cities is a confirmation that the tech “isn’t cold fusion,” says Artemis founder

2 min read
Steve Perlman: Nokia Deal Legitimizes Artemis’ pCell Technology
Artemis founder Steve Perlman
Photo: Artemis

“It’s our coming out party,” Steve Perlman told me on Friday, speaking under embargo about today’s announcement that his company, Artemis, has signed an agreement with Nokia Networks to work together to deploy Artemis’s pCell technology in major cellular telephone networks around the world.

pCell, first publicly demonstrated in early 2014, “is a complete rewrite of the wireless rulebook,” Perlman said at the time. (Perlman is best known for developing QuickTime at Apple, and as a co-founder of Web TV and founder of motion capture company MOVA. Artemis is a wholly owned subsidiary of Perlman’s startup incubator, Rearden Companies.)

Essentially, Artemis’ approach to wireless communications embraces interference instead of avoiding it, increasing capacity of a network by a factor of 50, the company claims, and preventing the dramatic drop in cellular data rates typically experienced by users in crowded environments. The technology is compatible with current LTE mobile devices, and the effect, Perlman has said, is 5G performance on a 4G network.

Deploying the system requires adding servers to a cellular provider’s data center to handle the heavy computation required and scattering small, dumb, antennas to connect mobile devices back to the servers. The areas covered by the antennas overlap, and device uplink transmissions are picked up by multiple antennas; the software uses those signals to calculate deliberately interfering downlink transmissions that synthesize a tiny personal cell, or pCell, for each device. Each personal cell can use the full spectrum capacity of the network at once, Perlman said.

The agreement between Nokia Networks and Artemis allows Nokia to license Artemis’ technology in order to build it into network equipment, which Nokia will then offer to its customers. An as yet unidentified “tier-one mobile operator” has completed its “technical due diligence” and will begin rolling out the technology for real-world testing early in 2016, according to an Artemis backgrounder.

This trial, Perlman believes, will roll seamlessly into local deployments and, eventually, national rollouts. “Doing a deployment in a city could take just a few months,” Perlman said, “because we don’t need to be on towers, our antennas can be on rooftops or in windows. They don’t need to be aimed, because they are just tossing around interference.” Widespread national deployment in the United States could happen in as soon as a year, he said.

Mobile device users won’t need to do anything to use pCell where it’s available; Perlman indicated that some operators have said they plan to display “5G” on the phone screen for marketing purposes. But otherwise users won’t get any sign that they are on the new system except, he said, dramatically higher data transfer rates, more akin to a home broadband connection than typical cellular network speeds.

Said Nokia Networks CTO Hossein Moiin in a press release: “We are keen to see the potential for pCell in enhancing 4G LTE downlink and uplink capacity given the rapidly growing network demands such as concurrent HD video streaming.”

The Nokia deal means more for Artemis than a typical licensing agreement. pCell took Perlman and his tiny team—the company only has 12 employees—more than ten years to develop, and, when first announced publicly, faced a huge amount of resistance. “I’ve had industry experts tell me the technology envisioned would violate the laws of thermodynamics. I’ve had engineering professors laugh at me. I’ve had hecklers during presentations I’ve made at universities,” Perlman said.

“After a very long journey, this deal is an endorsement,” he says, “a confirmation that this isn’t another cold fusion, that this isn’t just a lab experiment, but rather this is a commercially deployable system.”

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How the FCC Settles Radio-Spectrum Turf Wars

Remember the 5G-airport controversy? Here’s how such disputes play out

11 min read
This photo shows a man in the basket of a cherry picker working on an antenna as an airliner passes overhead.

The airline and cellular-phone industries have been at loggerheads over the possibility that 5G transmissions from antennas such as this one, located at Los Angeles International Airport, could interfere with the radar altimeters used in aircraft.

Patrick T. Fallon/AFP/Getty Images

You’ve no doubt seen the scary headlines: Will 5G Cause Planes to Crash? They appeared late last year, after the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration warned that new 5G services from AT&T and Verizon might interfere with the radar altimeters that airplane pilots rely on to land safely. Not true, said AT&T and Verizon, with the backing of the U.S. Federal Communications Commission, which had authorized 5G. The altimeters are safe, they maintained. Air travelers didn’t know what to believe.

Another recent FCC decision had also created a controversy about public safety: okaying Wi-Fi devices in a 6-gigahertz frequency band long used by point-to-point microwave systems to carry safety-critical data. The microwave operators predicted that the Wi-Fi devices would disrupt their systems; the Wi-Fi interests insisted they would not. (As an attorney, I represented a microwave-industry group in the ensuing legal dispute.)

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