There are few things more annoying than losing your mobile signal in a crowded area.
Particularly when your smartphone stubbornly insists that you have five bars of signal. The problem is that you're sharing the wireless signal from a single cell tower; all very well if there are only a few people in the area, but as soon as a crowd gathers, or someone starts streaming video, everything goes to pot.
New start-up Artemis Networks reckons that it has the solution: pCells, a new wireless network technology that it claims will deliver data speeds a thousand times faster than 4G LTE.
Current cellular networks use antennas to create individual large cells of wireless signal – carefully spaced to minimise interference. pCell takes the opposite approach, exploiting interference – numerous pWave radios are scattered around an area, combining their signals to create "personal cells" about 1cm large around the antenna of each mobile device. The devices aren't competing for limited spectrum or waiting their turn, and each pCell delivers the full available wireless capacity to its device.
It sounds too good to be true – and as yet, it's only been demonstrated in limited test conditions. One demo video shows four laptops streaming 1080p video at 10 MHz over LTE – together with a pair of MacBook Pros streaming 4K video and outputting on 4K TVs. Another shows eight iPhones simultaneously streaming 1080p HD video in 5 MHz of LTE spectrum.
Sounds impressive – but Artemis faces challenges in getting pCell technology off the ground. There's the creation of a whole new infrastructure of pWave radios, for starters – though they will, at least, be considerably easier to install than cell towers.
And while pCell will be great for users in crowded cities, it'll take a long time to install enough pWave transmitters to give widespread coverage in rural areas, or out on the road. Fortunately, the technology is compatible with LTE, so you should be able to switch seamlessly between the two while out and about. Quite how the phone carriers will react to a technology that makes data consumption easier is also open to question, given that their business models are based around customers paying for data.
Perlman has plenty of experience to bring to the table; as well as helping to create Apple's QuickTime, he's also the brains behind WebTV, snapped up by Microsoft for US$503m in 1997. His game-streaming start-up OnLive was less successful, forced to lay off staff and sell its assets in 2012 to stave off bankruptcy. Will pCell be more like the former and less like the latter? We'll find out later this year, when it's trialled in San Francisco. A global trial will follow in 2015.