LTE Direct, a ‘device-to-device’ service which keeps phones constantly connected to each other, extends device detection to a 500 metres-plus range.
There are of course a number of device-detection technologies already in existence, such as geolocation-based applications on the smartphone side and the iBeacon system on the retailer/venue side. The advantage of the new LTE Direct technique however is that it is robust, making it possible to perform consistently some tasks which have hitherto been rather inconsistent, such as providing geolocation data from one application to another, e.g. from a social network to an e-commerce marketing app. The LTE Direct remote wireless technology has already fired the imaginations of app designers and software developers as it has the potential to reduce the need for smartphones to go through cellular towers. US telecommunications products and services firm Qualcomm has pioneered the use of the technology as a way of detecting smartphones in the vicinity and allowing them to exchange data. With this type of technology a mobile phone could be continuously on the lookout for other devices to hook up with in order to exchange content. The technology uses relatively little power so it will not drain the phone battery and it uses the same radio spectrum as conventional cellular links. One possible application would be to inform the user of interesting things that are happening along his/her path in real time.
LTE Direct’s advantages in the crowded near-field networks segment
User-detection applications and services already in existence, which are based on WiFi and Bluetooth technology, all have their technical limitations. As it gets around many of these, LTE Direct has the potential to transform this trend into a highly promising market. Up to now there has been no way to achieve permanent geolocation between devices. This is a very different challenge from using ‘beacons’ to locate a user’s smartphone inside a retail store and send relevant personalised information to the customer. US department store chain Macy’s has been testing Apple’s iBeacons for this purpose but they have a much shorter range than LTE Direct. And when you use GPS geolocation to navigate your way around, your phone basically still has to link up with a satellite. An added advantage of LTE Direct is that it provides greater security for device-to-device communication, since the connection goes through mobile operators rather than via cellular towers.
An explosion of LTE Direct applications in a variety of sectors?
The next mobile communications breakthrough will be to figure out how to enable one user to communicate with another without having to go through a central network, whether telephone or Internet. LTE Direct is certainly a step in this direction and can also be used to target people on the basis of their current whereabouts, which would be enormously beneficial to firms wishing to carry out highly segmented marketing. Meanwhile work is underway to standardise the technology, settling a number of operational and programmer-related issues. For example Yahoo Labs is using the technology to underpin a new-generation digital tourist guide. You can tell the app how much free time you have, and it will ‘talk’ to the beacons in the vicinity to arrange a schedule for the next ten minutes or the next two hours. However, the phone networks will still be helping the spread of LTE Direct since they provide the radio waves that the device-to-device system uses, which also means that the incumbent network operators will still be able to monitor smartphone access to one or other type of bandwidth.