Facebook Pokes Around LTE Direct

The social network wants to use operators' LTE spectrum to create personalized, localized mobile services for their user base.

Sarah Thomas, Director, Women in Comms

September 25, 2014

3 Min Read
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

About the Author(s)

Sarah Thomas

Director, Women in Comms

Sarah Thomas's love affair with communications began in 2003 when she bought her first cellphone, a pink RAZR, which she duly "bedazzled" with the help of superglue and her dad.

She joined the editorial staff at Light Reading in 2010 and has been covering mobile technologies ever since. Sarah got her start covering telecom in 2007 at Telephony, later Connected Planet, may it rest in peace. Her non-telecom work experience includes a brief foray into public relations at Fleishman-Hillard (her cussin' upset the clients) and a hodge-podge of internships, including spells at Ingram's (Kansas City's business magazine), American Spa magazine (where she was Chief Hot-Tub Correspondent), and the tweens' quiz bible, QuizFest, in NYC.

As Editorial Operations Director, a role she took on in January 2015, Sarah is responsible for the day-to-day management of the non-news content elements on Light Reading.

Sarah received her Bachelor's in Journalism from the University of Missouri-Columbia. She lives in Chicago with her 3DTV, her iPad and a drawer full of smartphone cords.

Away from the world of telecom journalism, Sarah likes to dabble in monster truck racing, becoming part of Team Bigfoot in 2009.

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