Artemis announces DISH spectrum lease, setting up San Francisco pCell service trial; also makes venue-specific hub available for trial

Artemis Networks founder Steve Perlman. Credit all photos: Artemis Networks

Artemis Networks founder Steve Perlman. Credit all photos: Artemis Networks

Artemis Networks moved one step closer to a real-world offering of its pCell wireless service with the announcement of a spectrum lease deal with satellite provider DISH that will give Artemis the means to offer commercial services in San Francisco perhaps as early as sometime later this year, pending FCC approval.

In the meantime, owners of large public venues (like sports stadiums) can now test out the Artemis technology for themselves, by testing an Artemis I Hub and antenna combination in a trial arrangement with the company. Announced last year, Artemis’ pCell technology claims to solve two of the biggest problems in wireless networking, namely bandwidth congestion and antenna interference, by turning much of the current technology thinking on its head. If the revolutionary networking idea from longtime entrepreneur Steve Perlman pans out, stadium networks in particular could become more robust while also being cheaper and easier to deploy.

In a phone interview with Mobile Sports Report prior to Tuesday’s announcement, Perlman said Artemis expects to get FCC approval for its pCell-based wireless service sometime in the next 6 months. When that happens, Artemis will announce pricing for its cellular service, which will work with most existing LTE phones by adding in a SIM card provided by Artemis. Phones with dynamic SIMs like some of the newer devices from Apple, Perlman said, will be able to simply choose the Artemis service without having to add in a card.

Though he wouldn’t announce pricing yet, Perlman said Artemis services would be less expensive than current cellular plans. He said that there will likely be an option for local San Francisco service only, and another that includes roaming ability on other providers’ cellular networks for use outside the city.

More proof behind the yet-untasted pudding

When Perlman, the inventor of QuickTime and WebTV, announced Artemis and its pCell technology last year, it was met with both excitement — for its promise of delivering faster, cheaper wireless services — and no shortage of skepticism, about whether it would ever become a viable commercial product. Though pCell’s projected promise of using cellular interference to produce targeted, powerful cellular connectivity could be a boon to builders of large public-venue networks like those found in sports stadiums, owners and operators of those venues are loath to build expensive networks on untested, unproven technology. So it’s perhaps no surprise that Artemis has yet to name a paying customer for its revolutionary networking gear.

Artemis I Hub

Artemis I Hub

But being able to name names and talk about spectrum deals are steps bringing Artemis closer to something people can try, and perhaps buy. VenueNext, the application development firm behind the San Francisco 49ers’ Levi’s Stadium app, confirmed that it is testing Artemis technology, and the San Francisco network will provide Perlman and Artemis with a “beta” type platform to test and “shake out the system” in a live production environment.

“We need to be able to move quickly, get feedback and test the network,” said Perlman about Artemis’ decision to run its own network first, instead of waiting for a larger operator to implement it. “We need to be able to move at startup speed.”

For stadium owners and operators, the more interesting part of Tuesday’s news may be the Artemis I Hub, a device that supports up to 32 antennas, indoor for now with outdoor units due later this year. The trial testing will allow venue owners and operators to kick the tires on pCell deployment and performance on their own, instead of just taking Artemis’ word for it. Artemis also has published a lengthy white paper that fleshes out the explanation of their somewhat radical approach to cellular connectivity, another step toward legitimacy since publishing such a document publicly means that Artemis is confident of its claims.

If networking statistics from recent “big” stadium events are any barometer, the field of stadium networking may need some significant help soon since fans are lately using way more data than ever before, including the 13+ Gigabytes of traffic at the Super Bowl in Phoenix and the 6+ GB figure from the college football playoff championship game. To Perlman, the idea of trying to use current Wi-Fi and cellular technology to address a crowded space doesn’t make sense.

“You simply cannot use interfering technology in a situation where you have closely packed transmitters,” said Perlman. “You just can’t do it.”

Artemis explained

pCell antenna from Artemis Networking

pCell antenna from Artemis Networking

If you’re unfamiliar with the Artemis idea, at its simplest level it’s a new idea in connecting wireless devices to antennas that — if it works as advertised — turns conventional cellular and Wi-Fi thinking on its head. What Perlman and Artemis claim is that they have developed a way to build radios that transmit signals “that deliberately interfere with each other” to establish a “personal cell,” or pCell, for each device connecting to the network.

(See this BusinessWeek story from 2011 that thoroughly explains the Artemis premise in detail. This EE Times article also has more details, and this Wired article is also a helpful read.)

Leaving the complicated math and physics to the side for now, if Artemis’ claims hold true their technology could solve two of the biggest problems in wireless networking, namely bandwidth congestion and antenna interference. In current cellular and Wi-Fi designs, devices share signals from antenna radios, meaning bandwidth is reduced as more people connect to a cellular antenna or a Wi-Fi access point. Adding more antennas is one way to solve congestion problems; but especially in stadiums and other large public venues, you can’t place antennas too close to each other, because of signal interference.

The Artemis pCell technology, Perlman said, trumps both problems by delivering a centimeter-sized cell of coverage to each device, which can follow the device as it moves around in an antenna’s coverage zone. Again, if the company’s claims hold true of being able to deliver full bandwidth to each device “no matter how many users” are connected to each antenna, stadium networks could theoretically support much higher levels of connectivity at possibly a fraction of the current cost.

The next step in Artemis’ evolution will be to see if (or how well) its technology works in the wild, where everyday users can subject it to the unplanned stresses that can’t be tested in the lab. With any luck and FCC willing, we won’t have to wait another year for the next chapter to unfold.

Artemis Networks demos 20 iPads running HD video via one 5 MHz LTE channel

Artemis Networks CEO Steve Perlman shows off a "wall" of iPads, all simultaneously running video off one 5 MHz LTE channel via an Artemis pCell network. Credit: Artemis Networks.

Artemis Networks CEO Steve Perlman shows off a “wall” of iPads, all simultaneously running video off one 5 MHz LTE channel via an Artemis pCell network. Credit: Artemis Networks.

We won’t be there to confirm it, but Artemis Networks is scheduled to demonstrate its latest trick today at the Code Conference, using its revolutionary pCell network gear to stream video simultaneously to 20 Apple iPads via a single 5 MHz LTE channel.

In case you’re not a networking or cellular nerd, the ability to send that much data to a cluster of nearby devices is basically un-doable with currently deployed LTE technologies. What makes the trick possible is Artemis’s new method of combining signal interference to provide a direct connection to each client device, something that has worked well in demos but as of yet has no commercial deployment.

Still, with the track record of entrepreneur CEO Steve Perlman, best known for developing QuickTime and WebTV, it’s a good bet that Artemis will deliver something, sometime soon, to a paying customer. Artemis, which quickly added Wi-Fi and stadium networking to its target lists, says its technology addresses the big problem facing networks in large public venues, according to Perlman, who spoke with MSR in a phone interview earlier this week.

“The biggest strain on a [stadium] system is HD video,” said Perlman. And though many stadiums are adding Wi-Fi networks, almost all right now have some kind of enhanced cellular infrastructure or a cellular DAS, which these days includes LTE. A cluster of LTE devices close together trying to run video, Perlman said, “is exactly the problem [stadium networks] are facing today.”

Artemis’s pCell technology currently works only with LTE networks, though the company is working on developing a version for Wi-Fi as well. Part of the lure of the technology is that it works with off-the-shelf client devices; at the demonstration Thursday Perlman was scheduled to add the 20th iPad to his “wall of iPads” by unpacking it right at the event, to show how nothing needs to be done to client devices to add them to a pCell network.

Could pCell score a big win in stadium wireless?

pCell antenna from Artemis Networking

pCell antenna from Artemis Networking

With a pretty impressive scheduled media blitz a new company called Artemis Networks hit the scene today with a technology that if it works as advertised, could bring a welcome revolution to stadium wireless networking.

Fronted by entrepreneur Steve Perlman, perhaps best know for his development of things like QuickTime and WebTV, Artemis claims to have solved one of the most vexing problems for large public-venue wireless, namely the congestion caused by a lot of cellular devices in a small geographic place. Though no details are yet available to explain exactly how it works, the company says its pCell wireless technology turns conventional cellular infrastructure on its head, using cell interference to amplify signals to each device.

We are reaching out to the company and to other cellular industry types right now to get reactions to the announcement. In the meantime, if this plan really works it could potentially make stadium and other large-venue wireless networks a lot easier and cheaper to deploy. Some good details can be found in this EE Times report.

Here is the company’s simple explanation of what its technology does:

“pWave radios transmit signals that deliberately interfere with each other, combining to synthesize tiny pCells, each just one cm in size. Every mobile device has its own pCell, a “Personal Cell,” each getting the full spectrum capacity.”

A little bit farther down its explanation page, the company adds more details, apparently pegging its strategy of mesh deployment of antennas as a cloud-based radio access network, or C-RAN.

“pCell is a pure software-defined radio C-RAN. Linux-based servers scale linearly with capacity. Fronthaul is conventional IP. pWaves self-synchronize. Seamless handoff to cell networks if desired.”

And just to tease more, the company also hints that it could set up its own networks, instead of just making cellular work better. Again, we will need more technical details about how pCell works to figure out its exact impact, but this statement is also interesting:

“Concurrently with LTE devices, pCell supports “pCell-native” devices, at far lower cost and power, each with its own pCell in the same spectrum. pCell-native devices can be faster than LTE with fiber-class latency. For example, an iPod-class device could be made pCell-native with minimal additional cost at the same size and power, and would provide better than LTE mobile performance in pCell coverage areas. This opens the door for low-cost pCell-native smartphones, wearables, UltraHD TVs, laptops, appliances, etc.: a broadband Internet of (inexpensive) Things.”

Our guess is that the reality of this design will mean some kind of client software or chip necessary to allow devices to connect to the pCell network; anyone with any details on the device or network, please chime in!