by Cade Metz, wired.com, 5 January 2017
CELLULAR ANTENNAS OFTEN wear disguises. Chances are, your smartphone has at some point connected to an antenna that looks a lot like a pine tree, a palm tree, or even a cactus. But in typical fashion, serial Silicon Valley inventor Steve Perlman aims to push this idea much further. He and his company, Artemis Networks, just unveiled a cellular antenna disguised as a cable. Yes, it’s wireless technology that looks like a wire.
But Perlman, best known for developing Apple’s Quicktime video and Microsoft’s WebTV, didn’t build this new antenna just for the irony. It’s part of his ongoing effort to expand the internet bandwidth available to mobile phones so that everyone can stream more data and more video with fewer hiccups. His new antenna is the latest incarnation of pCell, the Artemis technology that significantly improves bandwidth by providing a kind of personal signal you needn’t share with anyone else. Now, the pCell is only 15 millimeters wide and can fit in the palm of your hand. When slipped into a cable, Perlman says, telcos can not only install it discreetly but without a permit.
Small cellular antennas are nothing new. But typically they aren’t this small, and typically they do require permits. “That’s the bugaboo,” says Joe Hoffman, vice president of strategic technology with tech research firm ABI Research and a specialist in small cells. Recently, T-Mobile lost a battle to overturn a San Francisco ordinance that requires permits for small cells. Sprint has faced similar problems in certain cities.
Perlman says that his tiny antennas, called pCell minis, get around these issues. His company is already installing them as cables rather than as antennas, which means they aren’t subject to the same restrictions. “They can be deployed in a way that no one can see them,” he says.
This very small cell tech is doubly intriguing because Perlman and Artemis say that they’re testing these antennas through Webpass. That’s the San Francisco-based internet service provider recently acquired by Access, the newly formed Alphabet company that runs Google Fiber. Webpass and Access did not respond to a request for comment, but these tests hint at ways that Access could transform Google Fiber in the years to come. Perlman’s technology could expand the internet bandwidth available not only on phones but in homes.
Google Fiber originally operated much like any other ISP: It ran cables into homes and businesses, though these cables provided unusually high-speed connections. But after Google reinvented itself as Alphabet and spun Google Fiber into its own company, execs halted the expansion of the service in order to rework company strategy. Part of this change seemed to involve Webpass, which delivers internet signals to apartment buildings using wireless technology, often a cheaper and more efficient approach than wirelines in dense urban areas.