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Nokia Networks to Test Steve Perlman's pCell Approach for Speeding Wireless Networks

The technology seeks to solve network congestion problems by using interference as a means rather than an obstacle.


Steve Perlman’s intriguing approach for dramatically speeding up wireless service is finally going to be put to the test.

The technology, dubbed pCell, is moving a step closer to deployment Monday as Perlman’s startup, Artemis Networks, is announcing a deal with Nokia Networks to begin testing its pCell wireless technology next year.

Under the agreement, the network equipment giant and Artemis will work with wireless carriers to conduct proof-of-concept tests of the technology in indoor stadiums and other places where the sheer number of mobile devices tax wireless networks, such as airports or an urban area like downtown San Francisco.

The goal is to demonstrate that the pCell technology, which promises to deliver 50 times the capacity of current 4G LTE networks using the same wireless spectrum and existing Apple and Android devices, works outside of a lab environment.

Rather than being slowed by interference as traditional networks are, the Artemis approach relies on congestion, using it to help deliver data to other devices.

“I have seen the demo … in a very controlled environment, but it seems to work,” said Nokia Networks Chief Technology Officer Hossein Moiin. “What we’re doing next is demonstrating that it does work. I’m not 100 percent sold, but I’m a believer.”

Many in the industry have remained highly skeptical of the approach, which Perlman first demonstrated at the Code conference in 2014.

Perlman said the memorandum of understanding with Nokia, one of the largest wireless infrastructure vendors in the world, represents a significant milestone.

The Finnish company will connect pCell to its networking equipment and support the handover of devices to and from existing networks. That means calls shouldn’t drop (or video stutter) whenever a caller moves from an existing 4G LTE network into a stadium equipped with the new technology.

Nokia also brings the financial heft to deploy pCell technology and integrate it into existing systems, once Artemis demonstrates to Moiin that the technology is both solid and an economically feasible solution to network congestion.

“It’s game-changing for us,” said Perlman. “It means that we’re no longer a startup trying to go and get the Tier 1 operators — people like AT&T or the big operators in Asia and Europe — saying, ‘Hey we’ve got this really cool thing for you’ … but you’re not big enough to deploy it.”

Artemis got its start 13 years ago at Rearden Companies’ technology incubator. At the time, Perlman — who founded WebTV, one of the earliest attempts to combine the Internet and TV — was looking for a new way to deliver the wireless Internet, once the existing technologies reached their physical limits.

The San Francisco company landed on an innovative approach for dealing with the congestion that slows traditional networks. Currently, as more phones connect, each device takes a turn sharing the spectrum. Speeds can slow to a crawl as more and more people try to stream videos and music, share photos or talk on the phone.

Carriers try to deal with this issue by erecting more towers, but they have to be careful where they place the antennas to avoid one antenna interfering with another’s radio signal. Carriers have tried to boost capacity in congested areas using a myriad of approaches, such as small cell technology.

Artemis’ pCell exploits the very thing carriers seek to avoid — interference. It combines radio signals to create tiny personal cells around individual devices, allowing users to access the wireless network in such a way that performance isn’t degraded.

If you’re looking for a deeper dive on the technology, check out the white paper or watch this video explainer.

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