Path to market unclear
Perlman has filed multiple patents on the technology, at least two of which have been issued. One application published a year ago provides a wealth of detail about the math behind the approach.
"The patent reveals this to be a distributed MIMO approach," said Jan Rabaey, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley who heads a wireless research center there. "There has been a large amount of activity in this space over the past couple of years," he said.
"To be honest, I do not see that much new in this patent that was not known," Rabaey added. "Actually, LTE-Advanced does use similar approaches," he said.
Rearden has tested the frequency-agnostic DIDO concept at a range of frequencies from 1 MHz to 1 GHz. The FCC declined to provide Rearden an experimental spectrum use license for its work, so most of the tests were conducted using amateur radio bands in the 450 MHz range.
DIDO promises high rates of propagation based on a high signal-to-noise ratio with signals extending as far as 30 miles in Rearden's tests to date. The tests used only Wi-Fi-like access points, rather than relatively expensive cellular towers and base stations.
The technique also can deliver latency in the sub-millisecond range compared to 40 milliseconds for 4G wireless and about 15 for a wired DSL line, Perlman said. "It’s a whole different way to think about propagating radiation," he added.
It's not clear how Perlman will commercialize DIDO. To date, both venture capitalists and FCC officials have rejected the approach. "We have had the door slammed in our faces many times," said Perlman.
The company may attempt to license the technology broadly and let others bring it to market in a variety of areas. For cellular systems, "I imagine [DIDO] coming in as an overbuild, where maybe phones have both [DIDO and conventional radios]," Perlman said.
The approach could be a boon to cellular carriers dealing with a flood of mobile data from smartphones and a relative scarcity of spectrum. However, it requires they build new networks and adopt new handsets—a huge undertaking.
Perlman is perhaps best known for his most recent venture, OnLive, a cloud-based gaming system. He also pioneered a fresh approach to animated affects with his startup Mova and helped develop QuickTime during his tenure at Apple.
Perlman has also been an outspoken opponent of patent reform.