Meet the 5G Alternative: pCell

There's a reason the US wireless operators just coughed up $45 billion on spectrum and that 5G is getting so much attention: Operators have a ceaseless need for more capacity in this age of smartphones, tablets and the Internet of Things. (See Hey Big Spenders! AT&T, Dish & VZ Splash Cash on Spectrum and Ericsson Testing 5G Use Cases, CFO Says.)

If you need further proof, look to Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO)'s venerable Visual Networking Index (VNI) released today, citing that mobile users across the globe cannot get enough of data, with 2.5 exabytes being consumed per month in 2014, a number Cisco expects to rise to 25 exabytes per month in 2019. An exabyte is one billion gigabytes or, in layman's terms, a butt-load of data. (See Cisco's Visual Networking Index and Cisco's VNI Shines Light on Mobile Offload.)

I recently spoke with the CEO of an interesting startup that's not waiting for 5G standards to be fleshed out, nor even hitching his technology to the 5G hype-wagon. He's promising a solution to the spectrum crunch that is readily available today. The company is Artemis, and the technology is pCell, a centralized-radio access network (C-RAN) architecture Steve Perlman invented to use cell signal interference to bring high-power signals to individual mobile users.

Read more about pCell and other innovations in the industry in the Prime Reading feature section here on Light Reading.

The company isn't new -- it launched its product with a big PR splash last year, and it's been working on the technology a decade longer than that. But Perlman says it's finishing trials and testing now and gearing up for actual deployments. He attributes the lag time to getting over the credibility hump.

Indeed, the startup has had a tough time convincing operators that its technology works as advertised, bringing 25 times performance improvement from the same spectrum and the same devices they're already using for LTE, without increasing costs substantially. He says that operators still can't wrap their heads around it even when he shows them the technology working in front of their own eyes.

Analysts we spoke with shared the operators' disbelief and added their own concerns about standards, scalability and working in the real world. The proof will be in the deployments that Perlman says are coming this year.

In the meantime, read up on pCell in our Prime Reading feature section here on Light Reading to learn more about the technology, the promise and the challenges and to judge for yourself whether pCell is too good to be true or the magic bullet operators have been searching for. (See pCell Promises to Fix Spectrum Crunch Now.)

— Sarah Thomas, Editorial Operations Director, Light Reading

MordyK 2/4/2015 | 2:26:05 PM
Re: Group think There's that old saying "trust but verify. As with any new tech one cant believe anything and buy the hype, but at the same time encourage and see if the opportunity is valid.
sarahthomas1011 2/4/2015 | 2:15:48 PM
Re: Seeing made me a believer Yeah, they have been quiet lately as they work on partnerships, trials and operator deployments. It still may be awhile before they're able to announce operator customers, but I think we'll hear more about actual deployments and partnerships this year.
sarahthomas1011 2/4/2015 | 2:14:26 PM
Re: Group think I don't disagree, but the skepticism here is more about the claims of 25x performance improvement and lower costs. It's a new way of doing things, but the promises are so big that operators feel like they're too good to be true. Certainly worth testing their theory though. A smart vendor would also partner up.
Bill Van 2/4/2015 | 11:03:45 AM
Seeing made me a believer A year ago I watched Perlman's three demo videos and understood his technology while he explaind and demonstrated it in the videos.  So I went to my Google Alerts and added pCell so I could followed this exciting new tech.  Well it's been about a year with very few articles along the way and I'm glad to see some of the skepticism just might be fading away.  
Joe Stanganelli 2/4/2015 | 2:46:24 AM
Re: emerging markets It's definitely something to be watched, especially when 4G is too slow and the prime alternative to these latency issues posed by bandwidth-hungry IoT deployments is, apparently, co-opting consumers' data plans.
MordyK 2/3/2015 | 6:24:07 PM
Group think I'm not saying anything about pCell one way or the other as i'm only familiar with by what I've read online, but skepticism of a new technology simply because it's not how things were historically done is a common problem in telcos. The reason innovation comes from startups is that they shed the belief that anything is impossible and judge everything on the merits.
DHagar 2/3/2015 | 2:20:12 PM
Re: Emerging markets SReedy, fascinating technology.  It makes sense that new technology may bring a new platform from which to meet the growing demand you point out.  I vote that if it can perform under growing demands and testing, it will be a viable answer, if not the answer.

Makes sense that emerging markets would look to this first - they have a need, a market, and an open mind.
sarahthomas1011 2/3/2015 | 11:57:35 AM
emerging markets Another interesting thing about pCell is that it's equally applicable in emerging markets as it is in developed ones, albeit for different reasons. I could actually see it taking off in developing markets first, where operators are greenfield and looking at mobile first/only.
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