Services/apps mobile

Facebook Pokes Around LTE Direct

Facebook may be an over-the-top app, but it's warming up to a number of services only a wireless network can offer. The social networking giant is now planning services that rely on both LTE Multicast and LTE Direct.

Facebook 's VP of Engineering Jay Parikh expressed his interest in LTE Multicast last week at Qualcomm Inc. (Nasdaq: QCOM)'s developer conference, and he also said that LTE Direct would be the impetus for new user experiences and -- most definitely -- advertising opportunities for the mobile version of Facebook. (See LTE Multicast Gets Liked By Facebook and Photos: Qualcomm Takes Over San Francisco.)

LTE Direct is a device-to-device technology that relies on operators' licensed spectrum for localized services within 500 meters of a user. Qualcomm says using LTE makes these services privacy sensitive, battery efficient, autonomous and interoperable compared to those that use GPS or WiFi. The chipmaker is leading the way to standardize the technology in release 12 along with other 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) members.

Facebook's interest in LTE Direct lies in knowing exactly where its users are and being able to target them with tailored experiences and promotions. "LTE Direct would let us expose or create user experiences around serendipitous experiences with friends nearby," Parikh said at the event, suggesting users could find out about events or impromptu meetups. Facebook and Qualcomm are working together closely to figure out what the use cases are and build and test them. (See Qualcomm Eyes the Next 8B+ Connected Devices.)

For more on LTE services, check out our dedicated mobile services/app page here on Light Reading.

Operators are interested in the technology for much the same reason -- they can use it to offer their own or partner apps and services to users over their networks. Makesh Makhijani, senior director of technical marketing at Qualcomm, called it "iBeacon on steroids," alluding to Apple Inc. (Nasdaq: AAPL)'s indoor proximity system that he said is too siloed to be a real solution. Facebook even had its own similar technology that uses GPS called Nearby, but Makhijani said it was riddled with problems that LTE Direct won't have.

"Your mobile phone will get to know you intimately," he said. "LTE Direct is one piece of that."

The chipmaker has been working on it for seven years. It has now got it to the point where it can be always on, running in the background of a phone without draining the battery.

"LTE Direct is a common standard that enables services that are always on at scale and interoperable," Makhijani explained. "The impact on battery doesn't change as more people get added to it, and it's part of a 3GPP standard, so interoperability works day one."

To show off the functionality, Qualcomm had several execs speak during a panel about how they've used it. Control Group, for one, used LTE Direct to power 100 giant touchscreens in New York subways that provide rider services with real-time information, as well as space for brands and third-party developers to create content and push it to the public. R/GA Lab used it on New Year's Eve in Times Square to create a shared experience on the big screen that would work even when all other networks failed.

The Sacramento Kings are also using it to enhance the fan experience with social discovery and promotions at the games, and Yahoo Inc. (Nasdaq: YHOO)'s director of mobile research says it's perfect to power the search company's hyper-local news app.

"With LTE Direct, we can figure out nearby activities happening in real time or in the not-to-distant future," said Beverly Harrison, principal scientist, director of mobile research, Yahoo Labs. "It doesn’t matter if you're at home or in the dog park in the next hour. We can tell nearby and in near real time in a way that gives you a local feel for what neighbors are going to and what's most relevant close by."

— Sarah Reedy, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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wanlord 10/7/2014 | 12:55:12 AM
Re: Competition I hope so. Carriers really need to be disruted. They are sitting too fat and happy...
Mitch Wagner 9/29/2014 | 1:00:03 PM
Competition I wonder whether we'll see the hypercloud providers, such as Facebook, Google, and Amazon, go into direct competition with carriers? The hyperclouds already have networks to connect their data centers. 
kq4ym 9/27/2014 | 5:51:49 PM
Re: Good service concept but regulatory issues remain With the limited 1200 feet range it will be interesting to see what could be possible. The marketing departments may be very hot to use this idea, or conversely see a limited opportunity. Facebook will surely hop on just to provide that add on capability of device to device functionality to add some revenue/advertising opportunites and the "gee whiz" factor. 
MordyK 9/27/2014 | 3:34:10 PM
Re: Carrier role Good points Kit! It'll be interesting to see how direct P2P vs. thru the network develops.
KitKilgour 9/27/2014 | 2:50:30 PM
Re: Carrier role Mordy, most spectrum licences require an operator to facilitate making data transmitted over licensed spectrum available to duly authorised authorities. Parallel requirements apply to fixed line communications operators, and there are few exceptions (e.g. local switch/pbx calls).This is true in the USA. There are also techniques that have been developed in cellular standards bodies that have yet to be deployed for this reason. Just because forms of D2D have been standardised doesn't mean they can be feployed. One of my reasons for suggesting that D2D will be bursts of low volume data to accommodate this.
MordyK 9/27/2014 | 11:07:11 AM
Re: Carrier role Kit, That obviously brings the network into play for signalling management, but seeing as the network has no visibility into the content I would still think that the network does not have responsibility for the content. Privacy howewer is still an important factor and Qualcomm put some real  thought into that end.
KitKilgour 9/27/2014 | 4:09:01 AM
Re: Carrier role My understanding is the 3GPP specifications require one of the endpoint UEs to be in contact with the network in order to allow the scheduling, so communication is network-assisted P2P
MordyK 9/26/2014 | 5:31:26 PM
Re: Carrier role My understanding is that the added payload is what Qualcomm ensured won't be causing signalling conflicts or spectrum interference, although its the carriers spectrum so I'm sure they can choose to disable it. As for the data ownership and liability during a P2P communication, I'm pretty sure their only liability is not what happens in their spectrum but is dependent on whether they have visibility and the ability to store, which in this case would be a resounding no. That said I would have a telco lawyer give an opinion before making any decisions based on this.
KitKilgour 9/26/2014 | 5:06:29 PM
Re: Carrier role Yes, the Direct spectrum usage will need to have some coordination by the operator and the phone in contact with the network (at least one needed) in order to avoid interference. LTE Direct isn't a pure standalone D2D play. Also, from a regulatory perspective if one phone is forwarding data to another over licensed spectrum, the operator may need to have visibility of that data, which creates some challenges
brtechy 9/26/2014 | 4:18:15 PM
Re: Carrier role If I understood it correctly, the "Direct" in LTE Direct means that the devices use the licensed spectrum to connect directly with each other, and not thru the carrier infrastructure, which makes it completely different than the standard data package use. In a sense, it is as if you bypassed the infrastructure alltogether to have a "blutooth" like or WiF- device to device connectivity. Up until there all good, but the fact of using those services on LICENSED spectrum makes a ton of difference, as KitKilgour also pointed out.

If, for any reason, there is signaling interference or any other kind of spectrum interference appearing because of the device to device connections, it can be a real mess. Not likely to occur when all you have is a small amount of user to user local connections, but if the service grows, it can really become complicated to coordinate with the primary device to e-Node B communications and spectrum usage.

That's why I personally believe without Telco support here we will run into issues (technical, regulatory or both).
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