Looking to the Future: It Really is All Wireless After All Thanks to pCell Technology
By Peter Aylett, Archimedia Middle East.
It is rare that a technology comes along that is truly a revolution. The television, digital ...
By Peter Aylett, Archimedia Middle East.
It is rare that a technology comes along that is truly a revolution. The television, digital data storage and transmission, capacitive touchscreens and LED lighting have all changed the way we look at and use technology.
Whenever I visit shows, the latest and greatest products shown by manufacturers are usually, at best, upgraded-performance versions of the old stuff, and at worst, just another example of the 'Emperor's new clothes'. But recently, I was made aware of a new technology that could genuinely revolutionise both digital signal transmission, as well as giving us true wireless power. The technology is called pCell, and it has been developed by a company called Artemis which is owned by a Silicon Valley entrepreneur called Steve Perlman.
[caption id="attachment_4958" align="aligncenter" width="219"] Steve Perlman.[/caption]
All of my professional career I have (as it turns out, wrongly) accepted that interference is bad, and wireless data bandwidth is finite and limited by available spectrum. The more users we have accessing a wireless network, be it 4G or Wi-Fi, the more all the devices compete for available wireless spectrum and so throughput for individual users decreases. This is sometimes called spectrum crunch. We have probably all experienced this when unsuccessfully trying to stream an HD movie to a mobile device whilst sitting in a crowded commuter train. This phenomenon is now being challenged by a number of new technologies, of which the most promising and currently most developed is pCell.
[caption id="attachment_4959" align="aligncenter" width="600"] steve perlman quote[/caption]
Today's wireless technologies use antennas to create a 'cell' of wireless coverage with all the devices in that cell ultimately sharing the total available bandwidth. The more devices the lower the bandwidth and throughput. pCell uses the phenomenon of constructive interference to create tiny personal (the 'p' in pCell) cells around a device. Think of dropping two pebbles in a pond. Each will create circular waves that spread out over the water. In some places, the waves combine to create another, stronger wave. pCell is a system where radio waves combine like this at the very point where your cell phone is located. At this point, a tiny personal cell around 10mm wide is created around the device's antenna. Everywhere else, the waves cancel each other out. Where pCell has stolen the lead is its ability to do all this with a standard LTE (Long Term Evolution) device, meaning that the technology is usable with the existing base of mobile devices.
[caption id="attachment_4960" align="aligncenter" width="600"] Conventional cellular coverage (left) versus pCell (right).[/caption]
It's Not Just Data Transmission
Just as exciting are another couple of possibilities arising from the same technology.
Wireless power is the final step to truly wireless devices. The same concept of constructive interference could in theory beam power wirelessly to a device. The issue here of course is that the technology would have to be accurate enough for this power to end up where it should be, and not potentially where it could be harmful to living tissue.
The other side benefit to the technology is location awareness. Because the system needs to be accurate enough to create a pCell that is 10mm in size it has the ability to know exactly where that device is. We are talking about location awareness on a metro scale way beyond what is possible with technologies such as Apple's iBeacon.
Implications for Our Industry
The implications for our industry are huge. If (and this is a big 'if') the mobile operators implement this kind of technology, it could be the end of cable-delivered broadband Internet as we know it. Individual devices would connect directly to a pCell network. Throw in IPv6, and true IoT (Internet of Things) becomes a reality. Add location awareness, and personal mobile devices reach a new convergence epoch.
Imagine browsing a cloud-based movie library on a mobile device whilst walking down a hallway to the room where a large display is located. When you arrive in the room, the system (cloud based, we are not talking home automation processors here) knows that you have been browsing A/V content and automatically switches the TV (connected through a pCell, not Wi-Fi) on and streams that content in 4K and high-resolution audio directly to the TV with full control on the mobile device. Take this a considerable step further, and it is possible with ultra-low-energy OLED displays to power them wirelessly.
Where would this leave us as integrators? Wireless signal transmission. Wireless power. Cloud-based control. Minimal cables. Philips Hue-style light fittings with wireless wall controls. Home appliances all joining the IoT. Location-aware control. Wearable biometric sensors providing information about the users. All of this WILL happen - it's just a matter of time.
Back to this month's topic of lighting control and window dressings - whilst the power requirements for lighting are currently beyond wireless delivery, there is potential for pCell technology to deliver a low-power trickle charge to battery-operated window dressing control motors. These would be as easy to fit as a curtain rail bought from your local DIY store.
A video showing the first public demonstration of pCell can be seen here. It is worth an hour of your time for a glimpse into the future of technology and the future of our industry.
As I said at the beginning, we have a revolution around the corner. Who would have thought that it could be explained by throwing pebbles into a pond?
Peter Aylett is a world-renowned speaker and lecturer in residential technology, and the Technical Director at Archimedia, a multinational high-end residential integrator in The Middle East. He is also currently Chair of CEDIA’s International Technology Council Applied Content Action Team, and a regular contributor to HiddenWires.
Comments on this article are welcome. See below.