A new technology that is being trialed by Qualcomm in partnership with wireless carriers in Europe, can one day potentially make cellular towers obsolete. Known as LTE Direct, the feature will make it possible for devices enabled with the technology to bypass towers altogether and communicate directly with each other. The wireless technology reportedly has a range of up to 500 meters, far more than either WiFi or Bluetooth. Qualcomm has already brought out a whitepaper on the trials it has already conducted in partnership with telecom equipment manufacturer Huawei and Germany’s largest wireless carrier Deutsche Telekom last September in Bonn, Germany.
Trials have also being conducted since last year, by researchers who have been testing LTE Direct (also known as D2D or Device to Device) as a way to allow devices to automatically discover nearby people, businesses, and other information. Some industry watchers see the technology as a potential new channel for targeted promotions or advertising through the usage of location-based apps and services. Some technology consultancy companies are also interested in using LTE Direct for targeted promotions. Researchers like Professor Jeff Andrews have also studied the possibility of using the fledgling technology to improve utilization of scarce electromagnetic spectrum and “overall throughput and energy efficiency“. According to Andrews, the technology will also prove to be a back-up in case of network failures or in case of complete unavailability of any network in remote regions. Mr. Steve Papa, founder of Parallel Wireless is one of those who is very upbeat about the possibilities of the new technology. Speaking on the emerging technology at the Founders Forum Smart Nation conference in Singapore, he told CNBC “There’s no reason why your cellphone isn’t the cell tower of the future. We’re just on the cusp of chips coming out where a $300 chip can power an entire cell tower”.
Devices using LTE Direct will have the ability to use licensed spectrum bands to automatically detect other devices similarly enabled with the feature without routing through cell towers which has been the norm till now. Qualcomm believes that this “horizontal discovery” will be beneficial to both consumers and app developers and will also enable carriers to deliver better value by using spectrum in a hitherto unseen manner to deliver entirely new categories of services as part of the Internet of Things. LTE Direct could also potentially help smooth out network problems that occur when a large number of users are trying to connect to the same cell tower in densely populated urban areas.