When Steve Perlman first began developing the pWave in 2002, YouTube didn't exist, the iPhone was still a few years away, and there was no such thing as Netflix streaming. And yet Perlman predicted that within a decade, personal data usage would lead to a massive wireless capacity issue. He was right.
Right now, wireless networks cover every mobile device in a given radius. In the age of Skype, FaceTime, and viral cat videos, these networks are tremendously strained. And because they have to be organized in a specific pattern, to avoid interference, adding more antennas only exacerbates the problem.
The pWave, an invention of Perlman's San Francisco-based startup Artemis Networks, changes all that. Using complex mathematical algorithms, this novel antenna transmits a unique signal to every phone, giving everyone a personal network. Instead of interfering, the waves transmitted from the pWave actually work together, meaning there's no limit to the number of antennas that can be installed in a city. And because pWave doesn't require costly LTE technology, it could potentially lead to a new generation of cheap smartphones.
"It turned out to be a way bigger breakthrough than we ever thought it would be," says Perlman, who plans to license the technology both to carriers and to entrepreneurs.
Of course, like most inventors of breakthrough technologies, Perlman was met mostly with doubt when he pitched the idea to his colleagues in the industry. "I was at times quite skeptical, but he always came up with the right anwers," says Pieter van Rooyen, a fellow telecom entrepreneur, who sold his wireless technology company to Broadcom for $100 million. What turned van Rooyen into a believer, her says, was the fact that Perlman developed the technology to be compatible with current LTE technology. "That's the key here," he says.
Perhaps the most impressive part of Perlman's decade long quest? He financed it himself. "In the early days, investors laughed at us," he says, adding that now he's being bombarded with investor interest. "We just say thanks, but at this point, we're no longer interested."