Posts tagged Wireless

How Google’s Project Fi Could Upend Wireless Service With A Simple Math Trick

This post first appeared on the Ferenstein Wire, a syndicated news service; it has been edited. For inquires, please email author and publisher Gregory Ferenstein.

Google unveiled an ambitious new plan to take on wireless carriers Wednesday with the launch of its own wireless telecom service, Project Fi. Google CEO Larry Page is reportedly frustrated that AT&T and Verizon just haven’t been interested in building better infrastructure. So, he launched his own wireless service — with a twist.

See also: Project Fi Is Google’s Blueprint For The Future Of The Network

Google’s pricing plan seems like a clever math trick to align profits with the incentive to build out more data infrastructure, so that carriers face the right incentives to keep up with demand. Under Google’s pricing, wireless carriers only make money when consumers use data, because consumers are charged exactly for what they use. If a consumer has a $60 6GB data plan and only uses 5.5GB, they only pay $55 for the data.

The math trick is to increase price linearly with data use.

Aligning Profits With Demand 

Unlike most wireless carriers, Google makes most of its money when consumers actually browse the Web. AT&T, Verizon and Sprint profit when users pay for data they never use or accidentally go over their rate allowance.

The upshot is that most wireless carriers have these tricky pricing plans of hidden fees, overage charges, complicated contracts and odd incremental upgrades. (AT&T, for instance, has a 6GB and a 15GB plan—but  nothing in between).

In some instances, these companies benefit from users who consume less data, since they charge more per gigabyte for low rate plans (illustrated in the bottom left side of the graph above).

In other words, these companies have no particular reason to build out their wireless infrastructure in order to keep up with increasing demand. Instead, they’d rather call you a data hog and throttle your connection if you to use more than they think you ought to be using.

See also: How All The Major U.S. Carriers Throttle Your Wireless Data

This odd business strategy reportedly irks Google. The Information’s Amir Efrati reported:

For Google, a mobile offering would fit neatly into CEO Larry Page’s playbook. He hasn’t been shy about discussing with subordinates his disdain for existing wireless carriers and telecom companies who he believes have been much too slow to upgrade their networks and heavy-handed in trying to control the services that subscribers use on their devices.

So, Google is offering monthly data plans: $20 unlimited text/talk and $1 per 100MB of data (i.e., a 2GB data plan will set you back a total of $40, plus taxes). It partnered with both Sprint and T-Mobile, so phones should effortlessly switch to whatever network is best in a given area. Under this grand scheme, there’s no incentive to lock users to a single wireless network or come up with tricky plans aimed at tripping up consumers.

If a consumers uses more data, the carrier has simple incentive to build out faster and more reliable capacity. It’s ambitious in its simplicity. And, if it works, America might actually catch up to the rest of the world with faster, cheaper, mobile broadband.

Lead photo by Ervins Stauhmanis

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Google’s Latest (Potential) Disruption: Per-Gigabyte Wireless Data Charges

Google’s forthcoming wireless service could allow customers to pay for data by the gigabyte, says a new report from Android Police Monday—a move that could force the hands of U.S. carriers used to roping customers into complicated data-cap plans that often end up gouging them.

The news comes by way of an app made for the Google service that turned up in an unofficial Nexus 6 firmware image. Called Tycho, the app may reveal pricing details for Google’s MVNO service—called “Project Fi” within the app.

Wireless & Painless

The Tycho app itself will apparently give customers the ability to perform the usual kinds of account maintenance functions, like paying bills, activating phone numbers, and checking usage information. But some of the in-app text seems to reveal what could make Project Fi the wireless plan of your dreams:

Your plan lets you choose how much data you want to pay for per month.

Don’t worry if you don’t get it just right: we’ll give you a refund for what you don’t use, and if you go over it’s the same cost.

Later, there are more details about sharing data:

Shared data across all your devices. Always the fastest speed. Use less? Receive a refund. Use more? Still the same cost.

If these details turn out to be genuine, Google could offer U.S. wireless customers a plan that’s too good to resist. I’ve reached out to Google for insight, and this was their spokesperson’s response: 

No official comment. But as you know we did confirm we’re launching an MVNO … stay tuned.

Obviously, that’s not much in the way of confirmation. But it’s no secret that wireless plans in the United States are priced far, far higher than what they actually cost to provide. As with Google’s other initiatives, from Gmail to Google Fiber, the company is likely looking to show the competition how it’s done, and it could revolutionize the wireless business in the process.

Why Fi

This logo for “Project Fi” was found inside the Tycho app (image via <a href=””>Android Police</a>).

In 2013, Android Central reported that wireless carriers in the United States charged some of the highest prices for service in the world. Meanwhile, in October of 2014, Ars Technica explained how data caps are a sham designed to generate profit, not protect network speeds. And in May of 2014, we found out that providing 4G service should actually cost less than providing 3G, despite pricing that would seem to indicate otherwise.

The upshot here is that there’s plenty of evidence that US wireless companies routinely gouge their customers. Google’s plans for an MVNO could help show customers that they don’t deserve inflated pricing just to line providers’ pockets. And if enough consumers decide they like to pay fairer prices for services they depend on, those providers might lower prices in response and usher in a saner wireless world.

Cellular tower testing photo by Idaho National Laboratory

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Lucky Nexus 6 Owners Will Reportedly Try Out Google’s Wireless Service First

Google’s upcoming wireless service—which will run on spectrum leased from the Sprint and T-Mobile networks—will be exclusive to Nexus 6 handset users to start, the Wall Street Journal reported Thursday. It’s not entirely clear why that might be, although we’ve got a few ideas.

Nexus 6’s Motorola Pedigree

Motorola’s most recent smartphone offerings have been designed to work with Republic Wireless, a so-called mobile virtual network operator, or MVNO, that basically resells access to Sprint’s cellular network. Because Republic’s services rely on a mix of Wi-Fi-based calls and cellular, handsets like the Moto X, G, and E have software specifically built to handle such network switching.

The Moto X is designed to jump on Wi-Fi and cellular networks with ease.

Previous reports on Google’s wireless-service plans suggest it will also jump back and forth between Wi-Fi and cellular signals, just with T-Mobile’s networks added into the mix. As such, the Motorola-made Nexus 6 may be particularly well-suited to juggling multiple networks and Wi-Fi calling.

See also: How I Got My Nexus 6

But if the ability to easily switch networks is the barrier of entry for trying out Google’s forthcoming wireless service, why aren’t those other Moto handsets being included in the initial test? I pinged Google for comment on the WSJ story and related questions, and will update with anything I hear back.

Staying Small, Even On Big Phones

For answers, we might need to look at another potentially revolutionary Google initiative: Google Fiber. The high-speed, affordably priced Internet service dots areas around the country. If Google were to set its mind to rolling out Fiber in every metro in America, it would certainly disrupt the hold ISPs have over their consumers.

See also: The Genius Of Google Fiber

But by keeping Fiber small, Google provides a blueprint to Internet providers about how things could be. The idea, it seems, is to spur innovation.

The same idea basically informs the Nexus device line itself. Despite partnering with popular OEMs like Samsung, LG, and most-recently Motorola, Nexus handsets can sometimes be tough to find. That’s been a particular problem with the Nexus 6, with the Google Play Store having only one of the four versions of the phone in stock.

Motorola’s stock is better, but it still only offers three of the four versions. The Nexus 6 isn’t even available from Verizon at the moment. Needless to say, the ginormous Nexus 6 isn’t in a lot of pockets at the moment.

The Nexus 6 is tough to find, no matter where you’re looking.

Widespread adoption isn’t the point, however. Nexus phones run stock Android, with no frills or bloatware pre-installed. The devices show Google’s partners how Android smartphones ought to be.

Google’s wireless service might be following the same playbook, with an extremely limited and slow rollout. (No one yet seems to have any idea where Google might actually offer the service.) It’s a way to show other carriers “how it’s done” and to spur them to innovate themselves. It might also inspire other smartphone makers to take a page from Motorola in terms of its network-switching software.

Whatever the reason, Nexus 6 owners may have a shot at trying out the new service by the end of March. As for when or where—or even if—the service will be available to other users, we’ll just have to wait and see.

Nexus 6 and Moto X images courtesy of Motorola; Google Play Store image courtesy of Google

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Verizon Wireless to Enable Opt-Out of Mobile “Supercookies”

The wireless service will allow users to completely opt out of being targeted with the unique mobile identifiers called “supercookies.”

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Google Rumored to Be Planning Wireless Service

The tech giant reportedly wants to force networks to offer better mobile speeds and prices.

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Google Enters The Wireless Provider Market, With Sprint And T-Mobile’s Help

Google will sell wireless service plans directly to consumers, managing both calls and mobile data on a cellular network, The Information reports.  

Sources close to the deal say that Google will pay Sprint and T-Mobile for access to their mobile networks, according to The Information. 

What’s more, if the contract with Sprint results in a large enough influx of new Google mobile customers, the telecom can renegotiate its deal, The Wall Street Journal reported

This news reveals another prong of Google’s desire to bring the Internet to every nook and cranny of the Universe. Earlier this week, Google bought a piece of SpaceX, Elon Musk’s space exploration startup, investing $1 billion in the company in order to further develop satellites that could beam the Internet back at the Earth.

On Friday, Google sent a letter to the Federal Communications Commision asking for more access to high-frequency radio bands. According to the tech giant’s request, such access would allow for crazy new innovations like beaming broadband down from hot air balloons and drones. This missive came on the heels of another one sent in late December lobbying for access to telephone poles, which would allow Google to deploy Google Fiber at one tenth the cost it currently does. 

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We’re One Step Closer To A Unified Wireless Charging Standard With Two-Group Merger

We’re one step closer to a unified standard of device charging.

Two of the three major groups involved in device charging technologies—the Alliance for Wireless Power, or A4WP, and the Power Matters Alliance, or PMA—have agreed to merge with the intent on creating a unified standard that would allow you to put your phone on a charging pad in order to recharge your battery, Cnet has reported.

See also: How Starbucks Could Take Wireless Charging Mainstream

The fact that there have existed three groups with incompatible charging standards has made something like a universal standard a difficult goal to reach. Currently, most devices with wireless charging power are compatible with the Wireless Power Consortium, or WPC. Meanwhile, the PMA is available at select Starbucks in the San Francisco area, while the A4WP is still working on a standard that hasn’t been put into effect yet.

Now that the A4WP and the PMA are combining forces, they could quickly overtake the WPC and be the ones to define and control the universal charging standard. A spokesperson for the groups said the merger will close by mid-2015, and result in a new name. 

Photo of a Starbucks Powermat by Adriana Lee for ReadWrite

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How Starbucks Could Take Wireless Charging Mainstream

Offering a shot of one-stop convenience, Starbucks began its roll-out of free Powermat wireless charging last week. The Seattle, Wash.–based coffee purveyor equipped roughly 200 stores in San Francisco with the technology, ahead of a nationwide launch next year.

I stopped by a location in Levi Plaza to check out the system and see if it lives up to the promise. I figured it would either be a cool new convenience or a lame, over-hyped feature. 

See also: How To Boost Your Phone’s Battery Life

Sitting in the cafe, with my phone resting on the table that piped juice to it, the answer was clear. Starbucks should consider extra security; Frapuccino-fueled patrons are destined to jockey for a seat at one of these tables. After years of trying, wireless charging could finally be on the verge of going mainstream in a big, caffeinated way. 

Getting Juiced Up At Starbucks

Wireless charging seems like a misnomer. People who have bought Powermat and similar products know that the main charging mat connects to a wall outlet with a cable. But it’s still considered “wireless” because phones, handheld gaming machines and other devices can power up just by sitting on top of it.

At Starbucks, the mats (or “Powermat Spots”) are built into some of the tables and countertops. Despite reports to the contrary, Daniel Schreiber, president of Powermat Technologies, claims the charging speed rivals cabled connections. I gave it a try, and found the charging action to be pretty speedy. 

 The downside is that few phones support Powermat charging out of the box. Some Lumia phones have it built in, and compatible backplates, phone cases, batteries and small Power Ring attachments are available under the joint Duracell-Powermat brand. The system offers some backward compatibility—if you have one, even an older unit, you’ll be able to charge your device on Starbucks’ tables. 

If not, you can still use the Starbucks charging surfaces. The store loans out Power Rings for free on the spot and sells them there too for about $10, if you’d like to own one. Duracell-Powermat also sells them online

“You’ve got to have a complete system,” said Matthew Guiste, Starbucks’ vice president of in-store digital. “No one has taken the plunge, [but] we want to start giving manufacturers a reason to put it in their phones.” The retailer has a habit of pushing technologies into the mainstream. Back in 2001, the business proselytized Wi-Fi, being among the first to offer it for free.

The chain’s knack for popularizing tech was the main reason Powermat partnered with it. “Wi-Fi was not a known commodity then,” said Schreiber. “They’re in a place to educate consumers.” 

Daniel Schreiber, president of Powermat Technologies, at Starbucks wireless charging roll-out

Education is needed. Wireless charging has been around for quite a while, but despite that, it still hasn’t managed to gain traction with consumers yet. 

Why Isn’t Wireless Charging A Thing Yet?

Even though the electromagnetic technology behind wireless charging goes back a century, people still mess with cables and power adapters—now more than ever. 

See also: If The Future’s Battery-Powered, We’re Screwed

Poor battery life forces the hassle. Today, huge phones with larger batteries and power-saving tactics, like Android’s Project Volta, try to prolong the longevity of our devices, but these are workarounds for batteries that just can’t keep pace with advancements in mobile technology. 

Processing power, new features and our demanding requirements for connectivity make us “more dependent on our devices,” said Schreiber. “[But] it’s reached a crisis point where the industry is bringing us new uses that we routinely disable to give us more battery life.” The issue becomes worse with wearables, as tiny gadgets leave little space for big power cells.

<a href=”″>Some reports</a> say the system won’t work with iPhones. Don’t believe everything you read.&nbsp;

Wireless charging’s convenience can help ease the pain of short battery life. Unfortunately, like the old video rivalry between VHS and BetaMax, warring factions within the industry prevent a universal standard from paving the way for wider adoption.

Earlier this year, two of the leading power consortiums—Powermat’s Power Matters Alliance (PMA) and the Alliance for Wireless Power (A4WP)—made some headway by joining forces. Reinier H.M. van der Lee, director of product marketing at Broadcom, a key member of A4WP, told me then that it would lead to “dual-mode receivers,” or gadgets that support both PMA’s open standard and A4WP’s Rezence standard. 

But the deal left out a third, the Wireless Power Consortium’s Qi—currently the most popular wireless charging option available in mobile devices. Devices like Samsung’s Galaxy, Motorola’s Droid and some Lumia phones offer built-in support. 

All three standards essentially rely on the same technology. Coils (in mats) create electromagnetic fields that transmit electricity when receivers (in gadgets and accessories) sit on top. But their approaches vary, and none work directly with either of the others. 

Rezence devices don’t exist as consumer products yet, but even if they did, single-mode products wouldn’t work on Starbucks’ Powermat charging tables. (They’d have to be dual-mode.) Qi gadgets, the most prevalent so far, won’t directly work either. 

To cut through the complications, Starbucks and Powermat made a smart move: Those free Power Ring loaners come in a choice of micro-USB or Apple’s lightning port. This cross-compatibility should cover most smartphones, and their in-store availability means people won’t have to plan ahead. 

This simple decision gives every customer some wireless charging powers. It just so happens to spread the gospel of Powermat to a massive audience as well.  

Powermat’s Power Play

After starting out with test roll-outs in select stores in Boston and San Jose, Starbucks is ready to go all in with PMA now. Guiste calls Powermat “the perfect partner,” thanks to its focus on commercial installations and managed support.

“What we got is not just a standard,” he said. “We got launch partners and a managed network that can tell us what’s going on, down to the location and the [specific] spot at that location.”

What Powermat got is a direct line to the vast market of coffee drinkers across the country. (Starbucks serves more than 5 million customers per day.) While obviously beneficial to Powermat, the strategy could also raise the profile of wireless charging overall, giving the whole industry a boost. 

It may even compel the various camps to work together on a universal standard. If so, it couldn’t come too soon. The already complex landscape of wireless charging could get even more complicated before long. 

As cable-free power-ups work to establish themselves in the mainstream, fringe candidates have been trying to push it in new directions. Startups like Humavox and Ossia want to ditch the mat entirely, using radio frequency technology to transform charging into Wi-Fi-like affairs.

It’s All Up In The Air

Humavox CEO Omri Lachman explained the design strategy behind his Eterna charging platform to me earlier this year: Users don’t use mats, he said. Instead, they toss their devices in a box. 

Those devices can vary, not just in variety, but size. With more than a little showmanship, he told me his company “didn’t start off with these devices,” holding up a smartphone. “We started with these,” he said, pointing to a small in-ear canal hearing aid. 

The components were designed to fit inside one of the smallest consumer devices imaginable, so it’s not tough to see those tiny receivers embedded inside the compact casings of wearable gadgets, one of Humavox’s target areas. 

Another startup, Ossia, believes charging should work entirely over the air.  

Though a bit slower than traditional charging, Ossia’s Cota technology can supposedly transmit power safely over a distance. It has been tested at 16 feet, and the company claims it can work up to 30 feet. 

Ossia has been making motions toward the smart home industry, hoping to power battery-operated sensors and other gizmos. In the controlled setting of a retail environment, Cota devices could theoretically start charging your devices the moment you walk in. But that scenario will probably take a lot of convincing to appease public concerns over safety. 

If these emerging companies succeed, or the leading troika of wireless charging proponents get their act together, they could banish the drudgery of plugging in cables and power adapters once and for all. 

We’re not there yet. But Starbucks and Powermat took a big step toward that future. And until it gets here, at least now we can sip our lattes and charge on a table while we wait. 

Starbucks coffee photo (cropped) courtesy of Starbucks; Ossia photo courtesy of Ossia; all others by Adriana Lee for ReadWrite

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Google Spits In Verizon’s Eye, Asserts Support For Wireless Net Neutrality

Four years ago, Google dismayed open-Internet supporters when it joined with Verizon to argue that net-neutrality rules—that is, regulations that keep cable and telecom companies from speeding or impeding Internet traffic based on who sends it—shouldn’t apply to wireless networks.

The FCC later adopted that policy in its own net-neutrality regulations, which a federal court struck down earlier this year for unrelated legal reasons. Yet Google appears to have had second thoughts on the matter.

See also: Net Neutrality—Your Cheat Sheet To The FCC’s Proposal

This week, Google emailed subscribers to its “Take Action” newsletter, encouraging them to “support a free and open Internet.” And that has a new and specific meaning, according to Google’s latest post on its Take Action website (emphasis added):

That means no Internet access provider should block or degrade Internet traffic, nor should they sell ‘fast lanes’ that prioritize particular Internet services over others. These rules should apply regardless of whether you’re accessing the Internet using a cable connection, a wireless service, or any other technology.

That’s a big change from Google’s 2010 blog post about its Verizon partnership (emphasis added):

Sixth, we both recognize that wireless broadband is different from the traditional wireline world, in part because the mobile marketplace is more competitive and changing rapidly. In recognition of the still-nascent nature of the wireless broadband marketplace, under this proposal we would not now apply most of the wireline principles to wireless, except for the transparency requirement. In addition, the Government Accountability Office would be required to report to Congress annually on developments in the wireless broadband marketplace, and whether or not current policies are working to protect consumers.

Google’s campaign comes at a particularly timely moment while the FCC is debating a new net-neutrality proposal. As outlined by FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler in May, that proposal would also exempt wireless carriers from most net-neutrality rules, although the commission declared its willingness to consider extending broader regulation to wireless as well.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock

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5 Things To Know About pCell, A Bold Scheme For Super-Fast Wireless Data

Overloaded wireless-data networks are so common in crowded urban areas that many of us take them for granted. Which helps explain why a startup like Artemis Technologies, which promises near-perfect cellular reception to smartphone users no matter how crowded their networks, has gotten some rapturous attention over the past month.

Artemis announced its approach, which it calls pCell (for “personal cell”), at the end of February. Despite the hype, its technology is far from proven, and has yet to be demonstrated outside of carefully controlled settings. Even if it does work as advertised, there’s no guarantee that wireless giants like Verizon and AT&T will embrace it, since scarce bandwidth allows them to charge higher data prices.

But the promise of pCell is unquestionably attractive, and while the underlying technology is counterintuitive, it’s well-founded in communication theory. Artemis, too, has a pedigree; it was founded by Steve Perlman, the inventor/entrepreneur behind OnLive, WebTV and Apple’s video encoding technology QuickTime.

So while Artemis is clearly out on the frontier, no one should dismiss pCell out of hand. Here’s what you need to know about this technology and what it could mean for the future of wireless data (and, possibly, more).

1. Wireless Data Is Bottlenecked By Interference

If your LTE data slows to a crawl even when you have good reception, you can blame what telecom researchers call “the cocktail party problem.” When there are way too many people in a room, there are too many signals—and too much interference—for you to hear the person you’re talking to.

The same goes for wireless, where your experience is usually affected by the thousands of other people nearby also trying to connect to the Web. All those radio signals zipping from cell tower to individual phones and back routinely get in each others’ way, sometimes canceling one another out entirely.

To see how this works (in a vastly simplified way), consider this photo of a lovely New Zealand harbor, taken as two wakes are crossing one another. Think of those crossing waves as the data signals heading for your smartphone and that of someone down the block.

Now let’s look at a closeup of where the waves meet (click for a larger version).

See how the water flattens where the peaks of one wave meet the troughs of another? It’s a phenomenon physicists call destructive interference, and something very similar happens when radio waves of the same frequency cross paths. In other words, those are your smartphone “dead zones.”

Now multiply this effect by thousands of signals pinging around in some dense cell sites, and it’s clear that dead zones are everywhere. Communications engineers have a number of tricks to keep you from ending up with no signal at all, but they all have one thing in common: They limit you and your phone to a mere fraction of the total bandwidth your local cell tower puts out.

2. pCell Actually Uses Interference To Its Advantage

Three years ago, Artemis founder Perlman released a white paper describing a technology he called DIDO, for “distributed input distributed output.” DIDO purportedly allows wireless users on a network to use the full data capacity of shared spectrum with several other users simultaneously.

“DIDO profoundly increases the data capacity of wireless spectrum, while increasing reliability and reducing the cost and complexity of wireless devices,” Perlman wrote. “DIDO deployment is far less expensive than conventional commercial wireless deployment, despite having vastly higher capacity and performance, and is able to use consumer Internet infrastructure and indoor access points.”

 DIDO—now pCell—basically exploits the flip side of destructive interference. Let’s go back to those New Zealand waves for a second.

Now look where the peaks of both waves meet. This is also interference, but here it creates a larger wave—one that, were these radio waves, would correspond to a stronger signal. Artemis’ technology aims to exploit such “constructive” interference in order to deliver a fast, clear signal to mobile users.

3. pCell Involves Some Very Serious Computation

One of the most interesting claims Perlman makes for pCell is that it sidesteps Shannon’s Law, an information-theory principle that establishes a limit to data transmission speeds over a given channel. In wireless, the main consequence is that mobile devices served by wireless networks of the same frequency interfere with one another and thus “divide up” the available signal, limiting their data reception.

pCell, however, purports to fine-tune the pattern of radio signals in a way that allows each device to receives the data capacity of the full channel. As a result, DIDO claims to pull off something normal cell towers can’t achieve: Even when more users join the network, the data rate for each user remains constant.

Effectively, this is because the pCell system is designed to create pockets of constructive interference around every mobile-device antenna. Each such pocket—Perlman describes them as about a centimeter in diameter—would act as an independent data channel, and thus wouldn’t be limited by interference from other devices.

The way Artemis describes it, there’s some very heavy lifting going on behind the scenes. In place of a single cell tower broadcasting to all users within range, pCell would establish a network of smaller antennas, each of which would broadcast a precoded signal computed by a data center that manages all communications in the area. Each precoded signal would basically be gibberish by itself—but where they overlap, the resulting constructive interference would yield a clear, high-speed data signal for every device in broadcast range. 

Now, this is most definitely rocket science. The pCell system would have to generate those complicated precoded signals in real time, taking into account the actual data being transmitted to users, their location, their movements, and interference from solid objects like concrete walls.

It’s an extremely complex problem, and probably one of the biggest reasons to be skeptical about Artemis’ claims. Perlman, of course, says his company has solved it.

4. pCell Wouldn’t Require New Phones, But Would Replace Cell Towers

One of pCell’s biggest selling points is that it would work with all current 4G LTE-enabled devices. That, of course, would be a huge advantage, as it wouldn’t require everyone to ditch their current iPhones and Androids just to get a decent signal. 

But the company also envisions a new line of “pCell-native” devices, which the company says are “faster than LTE with fiber-class latency” thanks to a low degree of power consumption. If this promise rings true, it could have a significant implications for newer and more dynamic mobile technologies such as wearables.

Cellular infrastructure, however, is another story. Today’s mobile devices are reliant on cell towers for their signals, but they’re costly in several ways. The average cell tower costs $150,000 to build, and takes a toll in worker fatalities, too. In 2012, ProPublica estimated there were an average of 123.6 cell tower worker deaths per 100,000 workers—more than 10 times the death rate across the construction industry as a whole.

Instead of cell towers, Artemis offers “pWave radios,” which are small but stylish weatherproof devices that the company says can be easily installed on indoor or outdoor walls or ceilings. Here’s how Perlman described them at the first public demonstration of the technology at Columbia University in February:

Rather than having one cell tower, you put a few of these small pWave radios around an area and that’s it. The transmissions, rather than being one transmission, intersect, and when they intersect, they create a tiny personal cell around every mobile device that’s around a centimeter in size.

5. There’s Just One More Thing

pCell could have even greater implications for other kinds of wireless technology. According to this detailed explanation of pCell technology by San Francisco data scientist Imran Akbar, pCell might also allow transmission of wireless power to for devices like phones, tablets, TVs and even motor vehicles. Should that pan out, smart devices might never need plugging in again.

Artemis’ approach, however, isn’t exactly unique. In fact, several other companies have invented solutions based off similar technology, and the theories for this system—also known as “network MIMO,” “cooperative MIMO” and “cooperative beamforming”—date back to the early 2000s.

Perlman says Artemis will begin deploying pCell by “late 2014.” But even if pCell can scale up to urban environments in a cost-effective way, that doesn’t mean pCell is guaranteed to succeed. The best technologies don’t always win, and Artemis has yet to conduct any large-scale demonstrations that might sway skeptics.

Artemis will also have to convince carriers and the FCC that its technology is worth the billions of dollars it would require to build base station radios and massive cloud infrastructure. It could be a long haul.

Most images courtesy of Artemis Networks; New Zealand harbor and wave images by Flickr user brewbooks, CC 2.0

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