Meet the 5G Alternative: pCell

6 Feb
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.

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 hereon 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.)



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