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5G

pCell Promises to Fix Spectrum Crunch Now

Imagine a technology that is so scalable, low-cost and effective that operators could solve their capacity crunch without spending $45 billion on new spectrum or waiting for 5G. It may sound too good to be true (and at least a couple analysts question its claims), but an innovative startup claims that technology is available now, bringing with it 25 times the performance of cellular LTE from the same amount of spectrum.

"The biggest thing we realized in announcing this is that it is such a large leapfrog in terms of performance, power savings and cost savings that even if we show it to [operators] working and go through the math and science and have them bring in CTOs, we still get feedback that they see it work, but can't explain how anything can work so well," says Steve Perlman, founder and CEO of Artemis, and inventor of pCell.

Perlman says wireless operator CTOs are grappling with disbelief since the innovation was first introduced a year ago. pCell, which stands for personal cell, is the result of over a decade of research, but it's not in university labs or the research and development phase right now. Rather, it's currently being tested with operators and is on track to be commercially deployed this year.

pCell
These small devices combine several signals to create interference patterns that have the net effect of giving each mobile user their own personal signal. Artemis says they work indoors or outdoors and can be mounted anywhere.
These small devices combine several signals to create interference patterns that have the net effect of giving each mobile user their own personal signal. Artemis says they work indoors or outdoors and can be mounted anywhere.

Here's how it works: Operators would deploy pWave radios with single-input, single-output (SISO) antennas using a centralized-radio access network (C-RAN) architecture wherever they have congestion. Rather than avoid interference as strategically placed cell towers do, Artemis's small pWave radios use that interference to take transmitted radio signals and synthesize them into higher-power signals for each individual mobile device, thus giving every user in that vicinity fiber-like speeds. (See Radio Revolutions on the Road to 5G.)

"The biggest benefit is that the users don't share one cell, so the capacity is divided and every user gets the full capacity of the spectrum simultaneously," Perlman says. The result, he adds, is 100 users sharing a cell get 100 times the access increase. See Artemis's own video explanation below for more.

It works with any existing LTE devices that use its SIM, and Perlman says it's frequency agile, so it will work on any spectrum band, including WiFi. And, the small size of the pWave radios -- about the size of a wireless router -- means they can be put anywhere indoors or outdoors, hidden or visible, although they are subject to the same leasing and backhaul requirements as small cells.

Demos in San Francisco, NYC and Texas have shown 25-times performance improvements in the network with the same amount of spectrum, Perlman claims. The company also tested its scalability by packing 32 antennas into an area of less than 2,000 square feet, each 2.5 meters apart from each other. Even with 16 iPhones fighting for capacity, as shown in the following video, Perlman says the system performed as promised.

"For a typical user, the main thing they will notice is that pCell always works -- no buffering or dead zones," he adds. "That's not something operators are able to offer. They can't make it reliable on their own."

Next Page: Questioning pCell's potential

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R Clark 2/25/2015 | 9:29:19 AM
Re: pCell versus small cells Yep, he definitely has to get over the credibility hump. Seems a bit too good to be true and so far no-one external to Artemis seems to have verified it.  Definitely a technology to watch, though.
sarahthomas1011 2/3/2015 | 11:09:25 AM
pCell versus small cells Artemis is a really interesting startup, and it seems like pCells could give small cells a run for their money. pCell may be a macro network technology, but it fulfills the same function as small cells (even better?). Stadiums and big venues are a good starting point and, seeing that a pCell is about the same size as a small cell, it will come down to the economics and which works better.
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