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The man behind OnLive has a plan to fix your terrible cellphone service

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artemis pwave antenna pcell
artemis pwave antenna pcell

Steve Perlman, the creator of the defunct game-streaming service OnLive, claims he has the answer to slow wireless service. pWave is a new type of wireless antenna that creates a miniature "bubble" of wireless connectivity around every device, solving congestion even in busy areas like sports stadiums and city centers. Perlman calls these bubbles pCells, and today his company Artemis is launching its ambitious attempt to reinvent the wireless network.

Although the exact details of how pCell works haven't been made public, it involves meshing overlapping signals together to avoid interference. In a demo created to announce the project, Perlman uses 10MHz of wireless spectrum, a fairly limited amount that pales in comparison to the average carrier's allocation, to stream multiple 1080p videos and two 4K videos from a number of LTE hotspots in the same room. Such a feat, says Perlman, is impossible with regular cellular network infrastructure, no matter how good the network is, due to interference and congestion.

Later in the same demo, 5MHz of spectrum is used to stream eight "HD" videos from YouTube and Vimeo on eight separate iPhones, each stacked atop one another. It's worth noting that these demos take place in an enclosed space that was surrounded by pWave antennas, and exist simply as a proof of concept — an indication of what's possible rather than a real-world simulation.

Artemis will publicly demonstrate its new technology in New York, but the road to bringing pCells to the general public will be an arduous one for the San Francisco startup. While the technology is entirely compatible with existing smartphones, a widespread rollout would require significant investment from carriers. There's nothing stopping said carriers from installing pWave antennas to bolster performance in problem areas, says Perlman, as they can work alongside the infrastructure already in place.

Perlman has a knack for introducing disruptive technologies. After helping to develop QuickTime while working at Apple, the engineer invented WebTV, a low-cost system for bringing the internet to televisions that was purchased by Microsoft and rebranded as MSN TV. OnLive, which like pCell seemed impossibly ambitious when it first debuted, delivered on its initial promise, but the company failed to turn its ambition into profit. He also created Moxi, a system that aimed to change the pay-TV market, but was ultimately stonewalled by cable companies. Just as with Moxi, Artemis will likely require the backing of big players to truly make an impact, but the company is also hoping to capture the attention of independent ISPs and others that could quickly — and relatively cheaply — build out their own super-fast network with pWave antennas.

"It has the potential to change the whole cast of players of the wireless telecommunications industry."

Speaking with The New York Times, a Verizon spokesperson confirmed the company was aware of Artemis' technology, saying the company's engineering teams "regularly assess future technologies," but he refused to confirm whether the national's largest carrier was considering deploying pWave antennas. In the same article, former Apple CEO John Sculley, who founded Metro PCS before the carrier merged with T-Mobile, is cited as saying pCell has "the potential to change the whole cast of players of the wireless telecommunications industry." For now, though, Perlman's performance claims need verifying, and its viability for widespread use needs investigating. The company plans to launch a broad test later this year in San Francisco, and says the antennas will be "ready for first commercial deployment in one market at the end of 2014, expanding to major markets in the US, Asia and Europe starting in 2015."