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Steve Perlman is ready to give you a personal cell phone signal that follows you from place to place, a signal that’s about 1,000 times faster than what you have today because you needn’t share it with anyone else.
Perlman — the iconic Silicon Valley inventor best known for selling his web TV company to Microsoft for half a billion dollars — started work on this new-age cellular technology a decade ago, and on Wednesday morning, he gave the first public demonstration at Columbia University in New York, his alma mater. Previously known as DIDO, the technology is now called pCell — short for “personal cell” — and judging from the demo Perlman gave us at his lab in San Francisco last week, it works as advertised, streaming video and other data to phones with a speed and a smoothness you’re unlikely to achieve over current cell networks (see video below for a demonstration).
“It’s a complete rewrite of the wireless rulebook,” says Perlman, who also helped Apple create QuickTime, the technology that brought video to the Macintosh. “Since the invention of wireless, people have moved around the coverage area. Now, the coverage area follows you.”
With today’s networks, each antenna — perched atop a building or tower — creates a massive “cell” of wireless signal. This is essentially an enormous cone of radio waves that spans several city blocks, and it’s shared by all phones in the area. But Perlman’s invention discards the arrangement, giving each phone its own tiny cell, a bubble of signal that goes wherever the phone goes. This “personal cell” provides just as much network bandwidth as today’s cells, Perlman says, but you needn’t share the bandwidth with anyone else. The result is a significantly faster signal.
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