OnLive founder touts ‘impossible’ wireless technology

Jul 5, 2011

OnLive founder Steve Perlman claims to have broken Shannon’s Law.

A little background: Way back in 1948, Claude Shannon, a researcher at Bell Labs, put forth a theory that wireless communication can only be transmitted over air just so fast. He showed it mathematically, and the rule, “Shannon’s Law,” has held up time and again to mathematical scrutiny. What that means to those of us interested in cellular and smartphone technology is that according to Shannon, we’ll only be able to transmit and download so much data per second, and that means that certain things, like playing high-quality multiplayer games that require a lot of information to be transferred, may never be possible with a cellular connection.

But Perlman claims that Shannon’s Law is more like Shannon’s Guideline, and his startup, Rearden Companies, has created a technology that can reach speeds previously believed to be impossible. He gave a talk about the tech at the recent NExTWORK conference in New York, according to a story from Wired.

Perlman told Wired his company and its new tech has fired off data at “10 times the limit, know they can achieve 100 times the limit, and are optimistic they can push it to 1,000 times faster or more.” The technology is known as DIDO, or “distributed input distributed output.” Perlman says that when wireless users connect to a tower, they have to split the available bandwidth between them – if a tower can handle 100 megabytes of bandwidth and 10 people connect, the bandwidth gets hacked up between all of them. With DIDO, Perlman says, every person who connects gets access to the full capability of the tower.

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That kind of capability would make it easy to run OnLive, a service that streams computer games from the cloud, over the air, even on iPads and other devices. And Perlman says cellular towers wouldn’t be necessary with DIDO technology, either – because rather than being able to send cell signals for a few miles, DIDO devices would be effective for about 30 miles and could send signals through solid objects. Perlman and his team think they can get those numbers up to 250 miles.

As for Shannon’s Law, some scientists don’t think it really can be violated because it has been repeatedly proven mathematically. As New York University Assistant Professor of Physics Kyle Cranmer put it, the theorem has been too well-studied to be mistaken, but the assumptions behind it could be incorrect.

Meantime, it’ll be a while before DIDO is in the hands of consumers. Perlman hopes it’ll only be a few years before the patented technology is available to everyone. But telecom companies like Verizon and AT&T might have something to say about that: they make their money by divvying out limited bandwidth to customers, and Perlman expects the technology to be the end of wired communications altogether, with all computing taking place in the cloud.

All in all – it sounds pretty amazing.

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Phil Hornshaw

Phil Hornshaw is a freelance writer, editor and author living in Los Angeles, dividing his time between playing video games, playing video games on his cell phone, and writing about playing video games. He’s also the co-author of So You Created a Wormhole: The Time Traveler’s Guide to Time Travel, which attempts to mix time travel pop culture with some semblance of science, as well as tips on the appropriate means of riding dinosaurs. Check out his profile.

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