Artemis’ pCell takes the back door into 5G private networks

Artemis Networks has been trying to get its pCell technology deployed through cellular networks for years. Now, with Citizens Broadband Radio Services (CBRS) technology, it’s going direct to venues, something it wasn’t able to do all those years before.

Back in 2014, Artemis founder and CEO Steve Perlman told Fierce that Artemis intended to license pCell (the “p” stands for personal) to wireless carriers and independent ISPs for deployment worldwide.

The biggest challenge the company had, until now, was it needed to go through a mobile operator. In 2017, it was close to a deal with Nokia, but management changed and that fell through. Now with CBRS, which offers an unlicensed spectrum for anyone to use for private networks, that’s all changed.

“We decided we could not go in the front door, so we went in the back door,” Perlman said, noting the frustration involved in trying to get mobile operators on board and the glacial nature of their business.

The company eventually made tweaks to support any mobile operator’s spectrum in a neutral host model so if they want in on the action, the opportunity is there. It works with all sub-6 GHz bands; it’s not supporting millimeter wave.

Going through the back door means approaching the largest customers of operators: sports venues, transportation hubs, hospitality, healthcare, industrial warehouses and more. There are also defense applications for pCell. And it’s all doing it as a small company with about 10 people.

What’s all the fuss about? Artemis today unveiled the pCell Multi-Gigabit LTE/5G virtualized Radio Access Network (vRAN), which promises to deliver 10x the capacity of conventional LTE/5G networks in the same amount of spectrum. While existing LTE/5G networks average less than 100 Mbps in 20 MHz of spectrum, a network powered by pCell with equivalent spectrum averages over 1 Gigabit/second in 20 MHz and over 7.5 Gigabits/second in 150 MHz, according to the company.

Traditional cellular systems slow down when a lot of people are trying to use the cell at the same time. With pCell, the speed stays the same when more users are added.  “We work in the opposite way of cells,” which try to avoid interference, Perlman said. In pCell’s case, it’s trying to exploit interference. “These antennas deliberately interfere with each other and where the radio waves run into each other, they add up,” creating an individual signal around the phones.

SAP Center installation 

To kick things off, Artemis announced the first large-scale pCell vRAN installation in the SAP Center, a 140,000-square-foot, 20,000-seat arena that hosts the San Jose Sharks hockey team, as well as a number of concerts, shows and the Panthers indoor football. The pCell vRAN makes SAP Center the world’s first venue with a Gigabit Private LTE/5G network, deployed in just 20 MHz of free (unlicensed) CBRS spectrum, according to Artemis. The SAP Center’s existing carrier networks required far more spectrum for adequate coverage and service.

According to Perlman, pCell enables a new class of applications, such as photo-realistic Extended and Augmented Reality interactively streamed to thousands of users, regardless of density.

“The pCell vRAN’s unique ability to multiply spectrum capacity by over 10x (and growing) will ultimately transform the lives of billions of people who use mobile networks every day,” Perlman said in a press release. “The pCell enables a new era in wireless communications, when fiber-class capacity, uniformity and reliability are available over the airwaves.”

Artemis has caught the attention of a lot of wireless folks. Dish Chairman Charlie Ergen mentioned Perlman during his company’s hours-long presentation before Wall Street analysts on Tuesday, where much of the theme revolved around the rusty old ways carriers do things and how Dish is taking a completely new and different cloud-inspired route.

In the press release, analyst Craig Moffett of MoffettNathanson calls it the “most innovative technology I’ve seen in wireless in a very long time.” Federated Wireless CEO Iyad Tarazi said Artemis holds “enormous potential” for high-speed, low latency use cases and his company looks forward to seeing their success in the market.

John Sculley, former CEO of Apple and a founding investor in MetroPCS, said Artemis pCell is “one of the largest technology breakthroughs I’ve seen in my career. However, the real genius is getting around longstanding barriers to entering the market by delivering “vastly higher performance” at far lower total cost of ownership via private LTE/5G in the new CBRS spectrum.

“For the first time, large mobile customers including venues, campuses and enterprise can choose mobile infrastructure based on performance, quality and economics, and most significantly, enabling future applications. Breakthrough technology like pCell enables entirely new media experiences like Extended and Augmented Reality that are expected to be huge growth opportunities for mobile wireless in the future,” Sculley stated in the release.

Subject to availability of components, pCell systems will be increasingly available through 2022, the company said.