Before I begin, I’m just going to pat myself on the back for this marvelously sensational sounding yet entirely appropriate headline. Alright, with that out of the way– OnLive CEO Steve Perlman is back to his old tricks of blowing minds and unveiling technology that is all too easy to dismiss as vaporware, impossible, and all the other things that got thrown around when OnLive was first revealed. To make this a little easier to digest, let’s back things up a bit and discuss exactly what Shannon’s Law is all about. If you’ve ever been at a concert, sporting event, convention, or any other densely populated area and haven’t been able to use your phone, you’ve already experienced it first hand. Shannon’s Law (or the Shannon–Hartley theorem) has to do with the maximum amount of error-free data that can be transmitted wirelessly, which is why you can’t Rick Roll your buddy at a football game, place a call in New York City, and other common problems that have just become normal in the world of cell phones– Particularly as smartphones become more prevalent.
Dealing with the huge amount of data that smartphones use has turned into a massive problem for cellular carriers worldwide, but the latest breakthrough from Rearden Companies might change all that. They’ve made brand new radios that don’t work anything like existing radios, and starting from the ground up have come up with a way to utilize the wireless spectrum in a way that isn’t limited by Shannon’s Law at all. With their earliest iterations of this technology they’ve been able to reach ten times what Shannon’s Law says is possible. They also don’t yet know the limit of just what they can do, but they know they can do “at least 100 times" what current cellular technology is doing in the same spectrum with 1ms latency at a few miles and 2ms latency at 30 miles.
Things get even crazier, though. Naturally you’d expect this new wireless technology to be both massive in size and complexity, but according to Perlman the radios are actually much simpler with a single antenna and use much less processing that’s even taking place in current cell phones. That 30 miles mentioned before? That’s not only beyond the curvature of the earth, it’s also farther than a television station will transmit. Speaking theoretically, they expect to be able to reach 250 miles and the only reason they’re even citing the 30 mile number is because of the time limitation of driving back and forth from test stations.
Perlman notes that the implications of this technology are “profound," and it’s hard to disagree. Shannon’s Law and the very real world limitations that we’ve all experienced using our cell phones is a serious issue for wireless engineers desperate to expand capacity to support the growing number of data-sucking smartphones in the wild. Beyond that though, with the latencies they’re able to attain as well as the transmit distance, this could completely change the face of broadband in the world which has historically always been plagued by the last mile.
Aside from that, speaking specifically from a mobile gaming perspective, the massive decrease in latency would make twitch-based games completely playable without gobs of predictive netcode to compensate for massive ping times via current cellular networks. It’s not hard to go wild speculating all the benefits this new technology could provide.
I know it’s easy to dismiss all of this as impossible, wizardry, witchcraft, black magic, technobabble, or whatever other way you’d like to describe it. Consider this though: When OnLive was unveiled it wasn’t entirely uncommon to see editorials like this one citing all the reasons why OnLive couldn’t possibly work. But it does work. OnLive has been online and fully operational for over a year now. I’ve played games to completion using the service without issue, and the recent addition of the Micro Console to my household has made gaming with OnLive even better.
Specific details on how all this works are yet to be released, and it’s hard to say how long it will take this initial unveiling to turn into an actual real-world product… But, the future looks bright and I’m overjoyed to have people like Steve Perlman in this world.