Thursday, September 29, 2016

Hybrid fiber-wireless tests by Google and others

Hybrid fiber-wireless technology will improve our access to the Internet and alter infrastructure ownership and business models.

Google Fiber installations run fiber all the way to the premises, but that is costly and the subscription rate has been disappointing, causing Google to slow installation and cut staff. It seems they are looking for a hybrid fiber-wireless connectivity solution.

In an earlier post, I noted that Google was experimenting with high-frequency wireless for possibly providing "last kilometer" links from homes and offices to Google Fiber. In a recent FCC filing, they requested approval for high-speed wireless testing in 24 US cities.

Even more interesting is their recent acquisition of Webpass, a boutique high-speed Internet service provider that has been experimenting with "PCells" an experimental wireless technology developed by Steve Perlman of Artemis Networks. I first heard about PCells when I saw a video of a talk and demo that Perlman gave at Columbia University, but you should start by watching this shorter, more recent demo:


There are other videos and tech papers on the Artemis Web site.

Perlman's demos are impressive -- computers, phones and tablets that are inches apart receive full-speed wireless connectivity and they freely move around without losing contact. Transmission speed slows a bit as they are moved, but full speed resumes as soon as they stop moving.

PCell access points are small and distributed compared to conventional cell towers and, if they turn out to be simple and effective, they could be installed and owned by individual users as well as companies --forming next-generation "street nets," connected to Google's, or anyone else's, fiber.

The jury is still out on PCells, but it is safe to say that they or other fifth generation wireless technology will improve our access to the Internet and alter infrastructure ownership and business models.

A PCell access point