One hears about new tech innovations that can disrupt things frequently. Occasionally those bold ideas come to be. pCell is one I think anyone (except possibly the carriers) would welcome. pCell is a short cut for “personal cell.” It’s a personal cell phone signal that can follow you wherever you are and deliver better connectivity and throughput to your mobile device than existing cell technology. Imagine five bars wherever you go. Wired has a nice write-up on the technology which is set to debut on Wednesday at a public demonstration at Columbia University in New York City. Keep your eyes on this one.
pCell requires each cellphone to have its own centimeter sized “cell” that creates a personal bubble around the phone and receives signals from new antennas that could be placed just about anywhere, theoretically replacing the large antenna stacks we have now. The idea is that instead of an antenna throwing out a signal across an area that multiple cell phones access simultaneously, your phone creates its own cell that provides you the same density of signal that you would find in the signal cone of a current antenna if you were the only one using it. The quote form Steve Perlman, the creator of pCell says: “Everybody gets a little cell, that’s about a centimeter in size, around your phone. That gives you incredible density. Everyone gets the full spectrum of the channel in one centimeter of space.”
The pCell network allows cell antennas to work together instead of separately. Often antenna proximity can lead to interference but pCell’s technology builds on that interference and actually enhances the quality of the signal. The descriptions of pCell actually do sound like it turns cellular technology not on its head, but inside out as well.
Disruptive? Absolutely. Hard to pull off? Well there will be obstacles certainly. The most obvious ones are the carriers and their business models. Perlman says he’s already begun discussions with the carriers and smartphone makers, but the carriers are historically not receptive to change that could upend their business models. In the Wired article a quote for Richard Doherty, director of technology consulting firm Envisioneering, points up that in business:
there is money in scarcity. The wireless business models of today are based on scarcity. Opening up the floodgates for any service, for any carrier, has tremendous implications. In our experiences working with carriers…they like to have everything defined on their terms, to have breakthroughs arrive when they want them to.
Steve Perlman has a lab in San Francisco called Rearden, and pCell is being pushed through a new company called Artemis. But you may have heard of Perlman before. He sold his Web TV company, MSN TV to Microsoft, worked at Apple and was involved with creating QuickTime for Apple. Rearden has been involved with the creation of the game streaming service OnLive, and Mova, a technology that allowed media creators to digitally capture facial expressions.
Perlman says pCell can provide speeds and smoothness that we don’t get to experience on our cell devices currently, and that the first prototype network could roll out as early as the 4th quarter of this year. Here’s hoping that indeed does happen.