Here is the world we want to live in: When we get in our car, we don’t have to put a key in the ignition; we just press “start” and we drive to work. When we get to work in the morning and sit down at our desks, our computing devices automatically contextualize to our user profiles and all of our content is readily available. We can easily hand off voice, text and video communication between devices and communication protocols. When we walk down the street for lunch, we get contextual ads based on our known preferences from area restaurants competing for our business. When a group of us goes to our neighborhood pub for happy hour, the music changes because we represent an influential minority and one of the TVs switches to a sporting event we are likely to want to watch. When we go home and pull into the driveway, the garage door opens automatically, and the lights turn on according to our user profile and time of day. When we go to the restaurant, bar, night club, sporting event or theater, we form an ad-hoc social network of proximally-related people, all with wireless devices in our pockets.
The common thread in the IoT future we want to live in is proximity. We want the devices around us to be “smart,” and a good target to aim for is making them smart enough to talk to each other for our benefit. The IoT takes us out of cyberspace and puts us in the real world, interacting with actual things instead of being limited to screens and browsers. And being in the physical world means things being near other things in an ever-shifting network of proximity. All they have to do now is discover each other and interact with each other in a meaningful way. That method of discovery is the key.
Today we have NFC and Bluetooth, the former having a practical working range of 10cm (so only useful in very specific use cases) and the latter less than 10 meters for Class 3 devices (but up to 100 meters for Class 1 devices requiring significant power budgets.) Of course, WiFi is prevalent, and has a typical range of 32 meters, making it useful for many applications. Then there is the commercial WAN, which will always serve a purpose for high-bandwidth applications. Soon we will see mass adoption of various LPWAN technologies like LoRa or SigFox or LTE Cat-M, and these will fill the need for low-power IoT device connectivity that BTLE and LTE cannot deliver. All of these technologies are “proximal” networking technologies but the underlying network technology isn’t the biggest roadblock to the proximally-connected IoT future we want to live in; it’s the provisioning, discovery and pairing problem.
LTE DIRECT EXPANDS REACH
That’s where LTE Direct comes in. Put simply, LTE Direct is a proximal discovery system that enables devices to communicate with each other at the modem level. It’s passive, always on, highly efficient and has a 500 meter range. The elegant architecture includes an analog to a DNS (in this case an ENS) to resolve the proximal binary expressions between devices. While LTE Direct obviously works well over LTE, it also works great over WiFi, Bluetooth or any other network for that matter, including LPWAN.
This is why I am so excited about LTE Direct: Proximity is a nuanced but incredibly important link in the IoT value chain. LTE Direct is the proximal discovery layer that enables devices to find and connect with each other, at up to 500 meters, enabling a myriad of novel functionality and new monetization opportunities. The network protocols will get worked out, of that I am sure. But just upstream from that is this incredibly important function that enables proximal discovery and connection, and it is very exciting.
The raw data from all of these proximal connections is not very useful; it is extremely noisy and not very actionable on the surface. But when an analytics engine like Tellient’s is applied, all of that raw data gets transformed in real time to useful information. That is exactly what Tellient does for LTE Direct: We have created a purpose-built engine specifically for LTE Direct data that transforms the raw data – in real time – into a data API suite that can be used directly by a variety of interested stakeholders from network operators to app developers to device manufacturers to the advertising ecosystem including DMPs that can monetize the data directly.