What if your smartphone didn’t need to move closer to the tower to get a better connection because it could tap into the stronger signal of a phone nearby? What if it didn’t need a cellular or Wi-Fi connection at all to talk to the devices around it?
Turns out both of those hypotheticals will soon be reality, at least, if M87 has anything to say about it.
The wireless technology company, led by former T-Mobile executive Cole Brodman, is currently trialing a new solution that would allow devices at the edge of the network to connect and form their own “proximate networks.”
Here’s how it works.
According to Broadman, the technology – developed by Vidur Bhargava and Dr. Sriram Vishwanath at the University of Texas at Austin – uses software to bridge and route between different radio technologies to allow devices like smartphones to connect with other devices nearby – whether or not they’re connected to the Internet via Wi-Fi or cellular. This in turn allows devices to share information, like location or text messages, with one another and even help each other find the easiest path to the best network connection.
Brodman said the technology is “more or less” radio agnostic, multi-operating system (iOS and Android), multi-RF, and multi-hop (to allow single or multiple hops between devices trying to reach the network).
“Just because there’s no Wi-Fi or cellular connection to the Internet, there is still Wi-Fi or Bluetooth available device to device,” Brodman explained. “So we essentially allow devices to discover each other using those technologies, like Wi-Fi direct, or Bluetooth LE, or regular Bluetooth, or even IoT technologies like 802.15.4 … Each of those technologies has the ability to create a payload stream; beyond discovery you can actually exchange information.”
Broadman said M87 is pushing the technology along two different paths to market.
The first is an “Edge Network” product geared toward wireless carriers that consists of a full stack solution to enable smartphones to relay traffic to the network to improve coverage.
Brodman said carriers can deploy this technology to use smartphones as relays to help the signals fi d the network more easily. This in turn will give consumers faster data connections in less time, as well as better throughout and coverage perception, while the carriers will get better coverage and better capacity by leveraging latent radio capacity in the devices, Brodman said. The solution is fully secured end-to-end using encryption, he said.
“So for example, a device in the center of the building using our software can discover a device that has better cellular coverage, can connect to that device directly, relaying a signal through that device, and then the other device will help that original consumer get to the network faster with a better connection,” Brodman said. “We essentially enable every smartphone to become a mini cell tower.”
Brodman said the technology will work best where there is a large number of devices that can connect with one another, making it better suited for urban and suburban environments.
The technology’s second path to market is via a “Proximate Client Platform” product aimed at app developers. The platform allows M87’s technology to be embedded in an app to allow devices to discover nearby devices, connect those devices in a communication chain, and relay information about what’s around them, like a beacon, Brodman said.
Use cases for the in-app application include connecting people in emerging markets who might not have the funds to support a monthly data subscription and marketing applications to help merchants create direct offers to people near their store, Brodman said.
While the platform product is “roughly” ready for commercial deployment now – and is being used by one client to provide in-app messaging between devices without Wi-Fi or cellular connections – the Edge Network product is still being put through its proving paces. The carrier product is expected to become commercially available in the first half of 2017, Brodman said.
While he noted most carriers have met the idea with enthusiasm, Brodman declined to confirm whether any major carriers were on board, saying only that he believes commercial opportunities “will emerge” as the product continues its move through carrier validation processes. Brodman, however, did reveal “six or seven” trials have already been carried out over the last 18 to 24 months in the United States, Europe, Asia, and the Middle East, with additional tests scheduled in South and Central America.
“This is an opportunity to drive edge coverage and edge capacity at the software and smartphone scale, not necessarily by having to deploy new small cells,” Brodman said. “I think we fit great in the evolution of the network as (carriers) move to smaller and smaller cells because once you deploy more small cells while you have more coverage you also have more islands of coverage … it’s a new tool in the tool bag for carriers to work with.”
Filed Under: Infrastructure, IoT • IIoT • internet of things • Industry 4.0